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Are plea bargains generally in a defendant's best interest?

A recent statistic confirms that plea bargains resolve the vast majority of federal criminal cases, around 97 percent. However, a recent article questions if courts should take a more active role in overseeing plea bargains.

Under current practices, a court does not get involved in negotiations between prosecutors and defense attorneys. In addition, the negotiation is rarely reduced to a written record. Other than the ethical requirement of not using illegal threats, prosecutors have incredibly broad discretion in plea negotiations.

It is important to remember that a plea bargain generally still involves a criminal conviction, similar to entering a guilty plea. The benefit of a plea bargain to the criminal defendant is that the prosecutor usually drops or reduces one or more of the criminal charges. The benefit to the prosecution is judicial economy, sparing the attorney the time of preparing for trial.

Yet do plea bargains really serve the aims of the criminal justice system? Every criminal defendant has a constitutional right to a trial by jury of his or her peers. The criminal trial is the process by which we attempt to get at the truth of a matter. However, some defendants may be accepting deals for reasons unrelated to their truth or innocence.

For example, facing criminal charges can be a scary process, so accepting a sure outcome in a plea deal may be much less stressful. Other defendants may not be able to afford bail and accept a plea deal instead of waiting in jail for the trial to come on the docket. This begs the question of whether an innocent defendant would agree to a plea deal for practical considerations.

Before you accept a plea deal, make sure you have considered all of your options with an experienced criminal defense attorney.

Source: The Atlantic, “Why U.S. Criminal Courts Are So Dependent on Plea Bargaining,” Dylan Walsh, May 2, 2017

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