About 90% of all criminal cases in the U.S. are settled by plea bargain. Given the number of cases being heard in courts these days it would be difficult to imagine our legal system bearing the burden of full jury trials in every case. But is justice really served when a prosecutor and defendant enter into such an agreement? Are courts allowing financial and logistical difficulties to dictate how the system operates?
There is, indeed, a great deal of controversy regarding plea bargains. One judge in a small Alaska county disallowed them completely. Many in other countries can’t understand them, especially when their own justice system does not include plea bargains as an option to trial. The United Kingdom’s Human Rights Act of 1998 criticizes its use, arguing that rewards, threats, and potential coercion undermine the foundation of justice.
A further argument against plea bargains is that they don’t so much reflect true justice as act as an expedient way to clear court dockets. Plea agreements between defendants and prosecutors, as such, amount to a sort of barter – give up your constitutional rights, and I will go easy on you, so to speak.
However, such arguments are viewed as cynical to many who work with defendants and prosecutors on a daily basis. Clearly there is a benefit to be reaped by both under such an agreement. Absent coercion, a defendant has the right to reject an offer. He may, however, see it as his best option. Similarly, it is difficult to imagine that a prosecutor would make an offer when he has a clear avenue to conviction. Indeed, often plea bargains are made when the prosecution knows that a conviction may be problematic if the case is taken to trial.
Justice can become muddled, however, if a defendant is not aware of his rights. He may not be aware from the outset that the prosecution carries the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Further, without the assistance of a criminal defense attorney he may not be aware that a plea agreement entails surrendering his legal right to a jury trial.
Whether plea bargains ultimately sustain our justice system or work to diminish it is an argument that will continue. However, it is clear that they serve a purpose that can help both defendants and prosecutors, as well as relieve courts of what would otherwise be a formidable burden indeed.
Whether a plea bargain being offered to you in your specific case is in your best interest depends upon many factors. Once you accept a plea bargain you will likely never be able to withdraw it. It is critical that you seek a “second opinion” from an experienced criminal defense law firm like Wallin & Klarich to help you determine whether you should accept the plea bargain or go to trial.
If you are facing criminal charges, it is essential that your rights are protected. Securing the services of a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney is essential for this purpose. The attorneys at Wallin & Klarich have over 30 years of experience in criminal defense. Call us today at 1-888-749-0034.