Recent studies done on the Criminal Justice System of the United States indicate that of all the convictions in our courts, 90 percent are as a result of plea bargains. Only a mere 10% of the cases end up in court. Hence it is right to argue that only a meager proportion of 1 person out of 10 ends up in trial to establish the truth behind the allegations heaped against him or her.
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The former Enron assistant boss, Michael Kopper, in August 2002 pleaded guilty to fraud charges brought against him and promised to offer assistance to bring the rest of the inpiduals behind the massive scale fraud to book. He also agreed to pay restitution amounting to over 10 million dollars. The amount of time that he was to spend jail was also to be slashed considerably due to his agreeing to help nail bigger fish in one of the biggest fraud incident in the history of the United States.
Agreeably, most people would admit that this was justice for sale. This is just an exemplification of how the criminal justice system has become. The ability of this system to offer justice to all indiscriminately is highly questionable; this is the reason as to why plea bargaining is becoming increasingly unpopular. The views on the appropriateness of plea bargaining are varied, although its constitutionality is not in doubt. Majority of the public is largely dissatisfied with this saying it’s an effort to impede on its constitutional right, having in mind the abrasiveness and the intimidating nature of the power-welding prosecutors in the face of largely ignorant and scared defendants. To the officials sitting in the justice department, this is the way to go to ensure that the immense work log in their offices is eased.
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This paper reiterates the call by most of the people that plea bargaining, whether it is necessary or not, impedes on the rights of some people to get a free and fair hearing in the court of law. John Walker Lindh, the American Taliban soldier, in 2002 entered a guilty plea. In his plea, he agreed to the charges brought against him by the state that he had served in the Taliban army and carried offensive weapons for them. His lawyers had put up a spirited fight alleging that he had been mistreated and tortured by the United States army.
Had he not entered a plea, he could have served over 90 years; this was reduced to 20 years. Because of this plea, we will never know what transpired when Walker was allegedly tortured and neither are the people that thought that he could have faced the full wrath of the law satisfied, for indeed he had been a part of the conspiracy planning to unleash harm to American citizens and interests.
The saddening fact about plea bargaining is that it ends up working to the benefit of the justice system and people faced by hard crimes; it rarely works positively for the petty offenders. This stems from the fact that mostly violent criminals and other big case fraudsters have something to give in terms of information and restitution that is valuable to the justice system more than the low time offenders (Schmalleger, F, 312).
As afore mentioned, majority of the people are intimidated by the prosecutors and high profile lawyers in the corridors of justice, whether or not one is guilty or not. Majority of lawyers admit that more than 90 percent of the trial cases end up in to a conviction. This is as a result of the inherent flaws in our justice system. Again no one is ever certain that if he or she goes ahead and gets into trial, an acquittal is guaranteed. It is an unknown wilderness, where anything can happen. This is what drives many people into plea bargaining, to get a slash of a sentence of a crime which probably they never committed. The poor are sometimes the worst victims.
The case of Erma Faye Stewart and Regina Kelly remains an eye opener. Both had been arrested on questionable grounds when a rather unreliable informant alleged that these two, together with others, were involved in drug distribution. They could not afford the huge bond and had to spend time in jail. Faced with the unfounded threat of a large sentence and fine, Stewart took the offer of a plea bargaining for a crime she had not committed. She got probation of 10 years and a fine thus tainting her rather good books.
For those who went ahead into the trial room, it was established that there was no evidence that could stand and all the cases had to be dismissed. Stewart had already agreed to a plea and released on the basis of that plea, yet there was no case against her. This is a huge injustice and is a common fate that befalls a lot of people especially in the low income bracket.
Those that support plea bargaining especially from the justice department cite the economics at play. This is justified by the meager amount that is allocated by to the justice departments in comparison to the intensity of the cases they have to cope with. If the whole of the amount is allocated to each case and assuming that all the cases went into trial, the states would not have adequate funds to conduct tenable investigations, by plea bargaining, the states and the relevant courts are able to save a lot of funds and time and hence focus adequately on the few that go to court, ensuring that they get a conviction. This is their argument.
Many however see a conflict of interest at play here rather than economics. The public a times allege that laxity and the egoistic nature of the prosecutors is the main reason. The defenders provided by the state to the accused are not paid full time but rather for the first few hours, by advising their clients to plea bargain they are basically saving themselves from taking unnecessary extra miles that will not be compensated. On their side, the prosecutors profiles are built on the basis of the number of conviction they have to their name, very few hence can afford to lose a case; this a times may be at the expense of justice.
Dispensation of justice should not only be for the satisfaction of the justice department but also the public. To most people, plea bargains are not hard enough for the nature of the crimes committed by some defendants. It is not uncommon for people accused of murder, probably facing an eminent execution, escaping with a relatively minor sentence under manslaughter having entered a plea to evade execution. It has to be understood that plea bargains are but negotiations entered into between the prosecutors and defendant to compel a defendant to accept an offense that is less than the original one, hoping that another harsher sentence will be extinguished and the sentence be lenient. (Garner, B.A, p 1173)
The above happens in most cases at the proposal by the prosecution side. There are a times that prosecutors feel that their case is lacking in crucial evidence and would not hold the onslaught of the defense. This is a tactic used where there is no possibility of an acquittal or a conviction. It is done at the expense of the accused who is entangled in the web of a power game between the prosecutor and the defender who both hope to save a face. The unfairness in plea bargains stem from the lack of uniformity in the plea bargains entered and the sentences. The justice system is supposed to thrive on wheels greased by consistency, fairness and impartiality, plea bargains are a big threat to these ideals.
In most cases it is the prosecutor who decides on the nature of sentence to be meted out as well as the charges to be dropped. These concessions are mostly done by the prosecution yet in the trial courts it is the prerogative of the judges. Sentences to be given and the nature of charges to be preferred or dropped is a decision made on the perceived importance of the information or restitutions such that big sentences can be quashed on that basis.
This is where consistency and uniformity lacks in the sentences on similar crimes in across the states and courts. This is what impedes on the provision of justice to all. An example of where consistency has been lacking in plea bargaining is where in May 2005, an army judge could not accept a guilty plea from a certain private in the belief that he had not committed the said crime. The private was hoping to have her possible sentence thrashed half fold. This is uncommon (Nardulli, P.F, 347).
Consistency would also lack where people who refuse to plea bargain get a harsher sentence than one that plea bargain, yet both are within their constitutional rights. This is a clear indication of how this practice has brought unfairness and inconsistency in the justice system and yet is proclaims to do the opposite in broad words.
Although there are certain cases where a plea bargain is acceptable, like on matters pertaining to national security and classified information, plea bargaining should be limited to bare necessity. Uniformity in the sentences must be upheld if justice has to be seen to be done in the United States Justice System.
- FRONTLINE, Erma Faye Stewart and Regina Kelly. Posted on June 17, 2004, Retrieved on 15/01/08
- Dirk Olin, Plea Bargain. The New York times magazine, September 29, 2002. Retrieved on 15/01/08
- Garner, B.A Blacks law dictionary (7th ed). St. Paul: West Group. 1999: 1173
- Nardulli, PF. “insider” Justice: Defense attorneys and the handling of felony cases. The journal of criminal law and criminology 77, 1986: 376-417
- Schmalleger, F. Criminal justice today: An introductory text for the twenty first century (6th Ed) Englewood, NJ: Prentice – Hall 2001; 312
Essay/Term paper: Why plea bargaining is necessary for court system to function
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The Importance of Plea Bargaining in Criminal Trials
Screeech! That is the sound of our court system coming to a grinding halt, if plea bargaining were no longer utilized. Not only does plea bargaining save taxpayers an enormous amount of money, it often provides the evidence for a conviction and allows public defenders and other court officials to concentrate their limited resources on more important or difficult cases. Some people may believe that plea bargaining with criminals is wrong. The entire basis of the argument against plea bargaining says that criminals should not testify or have anything to do with the prosecution because they were involved with the crime. We fail to realize that without plea bargaining many criminals would never be punished for their crimes at all. It is as simple as that. Granted, a plea bargain is, by definition, a compromise. But it is a compromise that is absolutely necessary for the judicial system to function. While it may seem that a person who exchanges his testimony for a lighter sentence would have sufficient motivation to lie in court the fact is that his testimony is simply verifying the testimonies of other witnesses. In a majority of cases plea bargains is utilized to ensure that the truly guilty criminal is punished. In our less than perfect world, plea bargaining is easily the lesser of the evils.
I agree with the definitions submitted by the affirmative speaker.
Americans have always emphasized getting a job done. We place a great deal of value on efficiency and industry. The government is expected to run with efficiency and operate with the good of the people in mind. Every aspect of our lives is governed by this utilitarian value. Why do we place such importance on efficiency? Because without it nothing would ever get done. If we all constantly obsessed over minute details and unrealistic ideals we would live in poverty. In the real world compromises are made because without them no amount of success could ever be achieved. In the words of John Stewart Mill, the father of utilitarianism, "The creed which accepts as the foundation of morals utility, or the greatest happiness principle, holds that actions are right in proportion as they promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness". This means that in a world of compromise, the most success is achieved by giving the greatest good to the greatest number of people.
This belief applies directly to plea bargaining. In this case, the most justice must be given the greatest number of criminals. Currently in the state of New York, 79% of all first degree murder cases are plea bargained. Without plea bargaining, many of these criminals would never even see a jail cell. Barry Kinsey, a sociologist at The University of Tulsa, said "Without plea bargaining the court's could not function unless there were drastic increases in budget allowance" . The courts are at present full and running over and if all the cases were to be tried the courts budgets would have to be increased by 900% (according to Tom Wallace, a public defender from Baltimore, Maryland).
It is also important to consider the length of time that would be required to try every person indicted for a crime. With the courts as over burdened as they are, taking every case to trial could clog up the courts almost indefinitely. Since every person in this country is guaranteed a speedy trial (courtesy of the sixth amendment), banning plea bargaining without tremendous budget increases would violate the constitutional rights of those accused.
The affirmative speaker believes that plea bargaining does not reveal the
truth. He has said that there is often lying and inaccurate accounts of the
truth as a result of plea bargaining. I believe that the opposition is wrong. There may be cases where there is lying but every part of the court system will have a little of that. The affirmative speaker has totally contradicted himself. He stated that plea bargaining is when a person admits to his crime and therefore is rewarded with a lighter sentence. Is the affirmative side saying that criminals admit to other crimes than what they have done. It appears to me that he is stating that a person who is charged for a crime is admitting to a totally different crime. Therefore he will be sentenced for that crime and still go through his original trial. Second of all he said that most of the time the actual truth is known, if it is how is this accused person going to lie. I am saying that plea bargaining definitely reaches the truth and that is one reason why it is used because the truth is know and the defendant is simply agreeing with it, therefore the affirmative speaker has no validation for this argument.
The speaker also referred to how plea bargaining was inaccurate and unfair.
It was stated that plea bargaining doesn't reflect what really happened and the
accused is not punished fairly. I have already stated how Plea Bargaining does reach the truth therefore it is accurate. The accuracy is very accountable because in many cases there are other witnesses that confirm the testimony of the defendant. Witnesses and/or victims are usually present at the case and testify to add additional
information and verify the testimony of the defendant. With verification and most
of the time when the actual truth is known the process of plea bargaining is very
Secondly the affirmative case said how plea bargaining was "unfair". It was
said that the criminal is not punished fairly for the crime he has committed. This
statement is also wrong. The criminal is not only saving time and money for the
court system and other people but he is also is admitting he has done wrong.
Much time and money is saved with plea bargaining. The criminal is not taking
advantage of the court system by going through a long tedious trial but he is
admitting he has done wrong. The amount of time , money , and work the criminal
saves clearly outweighs lesser sentence he is given. The opposition also failed
to prove that many of the cases of Plea Bargaining are not as drastic as his example of the man whose sentence was reduced from forty years to two years. In most cases the sentence is only reduced by a small margin.
One of the affirmative cases main arguments is how criminals are sent back
on the street as a result of plea bargaining. He said that when criminals are given
shortened sentences they are sent back on the street to commit more crimes. I am
not going to lie, yes, there are instances when criminals are sent back to the street
and do commit terrible crimes, but I do not believe that plea bargaining is the cause of this. When many criminals are sent back on the street it is the result of lenient bail. Many times criminals are given $5000 bail and are sent back on the street to where they can easliy catch a bus and continue their career in another town. There are not usually drastic changes in sentencing, it may be only a few years difference and the criminal still gets plenty of time to think about what he has done.
At present, 68% of all murder cases in the U. S. end in conviction. Those indicted for first degree murder who accept plea bargains often receive the same or similar sentence as they would have received if they were convicted by a jury (the main difference being that seeking death penalty is often dropped). Abolishing plea bargaining in this country would be a mistake with potentially disastrous consequences. Since justice is being served in our country's criminal courts, why should we risk our own finances and the punishment of criminals, that is already effectively taking place, to achieve the lofty ideals of a few social theorists?
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