Rampant Plea Bargaining Is a Raw Deal for Defendants
A new report from the American Bar Association (ABA) presents more evidence that the ubiquitous use of plea bargains distorts the justice system and puts defendants at a disadvantage. Roughly 98.3 percent of federal criminal convictions result from guilty pleas, as do roughly 95 percent of state convictions. “Some jurisdictions have not had a criminal trial in many years,” the report notes. Nor is a guilty plea an absolute assurance of guilt: 18 percent percent of documented exonerations had previously pleaded guilty, as did nearly 11 percent of defendants exonerated by DNA evidence since 1989.
To make defendants plead guilty rather than go to trial, prosecutors threaten harsher sentences, bail impositions, indictments of the defendant’s family members, and more. “Some prosecutors will threaten to amend charging documents by adding charges to induce the defendant to plead guilty,” the report states. Further, some prosecutors strategically threaten to bring charges with mandatory minimum sentencing requirements. The ABA task force members differ on the prudence of abolishing mandatory minimums outright, but “all members agree that where mandatory minimums remain in statutory form, they should not be used to induce pleas of guilt through the plea bargaining process.”
The “trial penalty” defendants incur when they refuse to plead guilty is reflected in the sentencing data reported by the ABA. In federal felony cases, average sentences handed down at trial are seven years longer than convictions resulting from a plea bargain. “Although a modest reduction in sentence is justified in some cases resolved through guilty pleas because a defendant accepts responsibility, sentences should not be punitively inflated sim
Article from Reason.com