Tags: plea | deal | bargain | trial | justice system

Plea Deals Are a Bad Bargain for Society

Plea Deals Are a Bad Bargain for Society
(Ian Andreiev/Dreamstime.com)

By    |   Thursday, 15 August 2019 11:56 AM

On a new podcast called “Confronting O.J. Simpson,” Kim Goldman, the sister of Ron Goldman, who was killed alongside Nicole Brown Simpson, says, “The U.S has a legal system, not a justice system.”

She’s right. And we have a lazy legal system at that.

Less than 50% of all crimes are solved at all, and even fewer go on to trial. Of those, at least 90% of cases that are “solved” are plead out at both the state and federal levels.

Most assume that a person who pleads guilty or confesses to a crime is certainly guilty. Under that assumption, a plea deal — which saves the money and time of a trial while producing swift outcomes — would be a good thing. But we know that assumption is incorrect.

Thanks to emerging technologies, forensic science, and most importantly the work of outside pro bono litigation groups, the nation is uncovering wrongful convictions faster than the media can report on them. To date, we’re approaching 2,500 exonerations, equating to 21,725 years lost by innocent Americans.

Those wrongful convictions occur for a myriad of reasons. About 25% stem from false confessions.

Why would someone confess to a crime they did not commit? Though it sounds contrary to common sense, the forces at work in our system often make it the most practical choice for the accused.

Police are under no obligation to tell the truth during interrogations, and in 25 states, they’re also under no requirement to record their interrogation process. Defendants can also be deprived of sleep during interrogations, which we know leads to a heightened likelihood of false statements, and law enforcement can question individuals for exceedingly lengthy periods of time.

The psychological impact of these techniques is powerful and causes many people to break. But even for those who are able to maintain their mental composure, there are still reasons to take a plea deal when you’re innocent.

While 20% of those arrested chose to go to trial 30 years ago, a mere 3% make the same decision today in large part due to fear of the “trial penalty.” And it isn’t a hollow fear. According to a report by the National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys, in most primary offense categories, the average post-trial sentence was more than triple the average post-plea sentence.

Additionally, for those of lesser economic means, the cash-money bail system often forces them into pleading guilty despite innocence. Under our current system, bail has little to do with the likelihood of ongoing violence and everything to do with a person’s ability to pay. For those unable to pay bail, they are left to languish in jail while they await trial. Even a few days incarcerated can result in the loss of a job, income, property, and custody of children. When facing such circumstances, many individuals will take a plea deal simply because it is the best option they have.

Our founders imagined a system that favored the defendant and protected the individual from an overreaching government. But far from the notion that it is better for a hundred guilty men to go free than for one innocent man to perish, is our current system where innocence is irrelevant.

Prosecutors have accumulated great power in our political and judicial systems, and they often use it to increase their oversight and jurisdiction. District attorneys’ conferences remain one of the most influential lobbying bodies at most state capitals and continue to insist that their influence be expanded. And many continue to claim that they need sentences like the death penalty to wield over defendants and back them into plea deals.

We should push back aggressively on such statements. Not only does the current plea deal system result in thousands of wrongful convictions, it also results in an incalculable social toll. For every person that pleads guilty while innocent, we burden another individual with a record that will follow them around and hinder their ability to work, rent, purchase, parent, and thrive. Those economic and social costs would be astronomical if a dollar amount could be placed on them.

Not only that, but data shows that prosecutors are flat out wrong when it comes to their evaluation of the necessity of plea bargains in the legal process. Alaska, which banned plea deals in 1975, found that guilty pleas continued to flow in at undiminished rates. And in New Jersey, where the death penalty was abolished in 2007, prosecutors say that the repeal has made no difference in their ability to secure convictions.

Plea deals are a bad bargain to begin with. Our efforts should always be in pursuit of truth and justice, not legal expediency. Ridding our system of plea deals would be an excellent step towards the building of an actual justice system rather than a legal apparatus.

Hannah Cox is the National Manager of Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty. Hannah was previously Director of Outreach for the Beacon Center of Tennessee, a free-market think tank. Prior to that, she was Director of Development for the Tennessee Firearms Association and a policy advocate for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.

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Less than 50% of all crimes are solved at all, and even fewer go on to trial. Of those, at least 90% of cases that are “solved” are plead out at both the state and federal levels.
plea, deal, bargain, trial, justice system
Thursday, 15 August 2019 11:56 AM
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