Plea Bargains / by kevin murray

Plea bargains are richly criticized from both the victim's perspective as well as the accused' perspective and rightly so.  Often victims of a particular crime are extremely disappointed when charges are reduced for the perpetrator in which the offender is instead convicted of a lesser crime and thereby receives a lesser sentence.  Not only has the punishment been reduced, but the victim does not have their proper day in court.  For some victims, it is an important part of closure and of justice, to see that the criminal be suitably tried, convicted, and sentenced, and consequently anything that short-circuits that process is in some degree a travesty of justice.  As for the accused, they too have massive problems with our plea bargaining system in which they are often essentially coerced into pleading guilty to a lesser crime in order to avoid a strict and highly punitive (and often) mandatory sentence.  According to the "fewer than one in 40 felony cases now make it to trial, according to data from nine states that have published such records since the 1970s."


To make matters worse and more unjust, despite the fact that perpetrators are entitled to defense counsel, whether they are able to afford an attorney or not, in cases in which they are assigned a public defender, those public defenders, themselves, are simply overwhelmed when it comes to the resources and time that is available to them.  Consequently, even public defenders that strongly desire to go to trial for their clients, simply can't afford to do so, which in of itself, compromises the entire legal system.


Accused persons that are also incarcerated, because they are unable to afford their bail, are often under intense additional pressure to make a deal because they are already behind bars.  This clearly creates a division between those with money, assets, or family that can provide necessary and needed assistance to their defense and those that are without those resources.  Additionally, if the accused is relatively uneducated, unenlightened, gullible, and pliable, his ability to negotiate a valid plea deal is most definitely compromised.


For instance, I recently had a nephew behind bars, for a crime that he was accused of, in which the evidence against him was rather specious.  He was unable to afford bail, and was kept behind bars, despite the fact that before his arrest, he was gainfully employed with no prior criminal or even any arrests on his record.  He was assigned a public defender who could do no better than to bargain for a relatively short prison sentence, a felony conviction, and then parole, all for a man who was effectively innocent of the crimes against him.  Fortunately, I had the funds to eventually come to his aid, I was additionally fortunate to unearth an attorney that believed in him, that agreed that my nephew's situation was a travesty and further that knew the ins and outs of our court and legal system, and additionally was on board for what I desired as an outcome for my nephew. 


This attorney was good to his word and ultimately was able to get all charges dropped against my nephew, in which previously my nephew was under intense pressure to make a deal or find himself stuck in jail, awaiting for the slow wheels of justice to grind through.  I appreciated my attorney's competency, his candor, and his effectiveness; I also admired my nephew's courage to stand firm and not to break, despite being incarcerated, and ultimately his vindication.


But what did it cost?  It cost my nephew his job, his freedom, bad credit for failing to pay bills while incarcerated because he was without income, and 75 days of jail-time.   It cost me a little time and some money. It also cost the taxpayers' money for the incarceration of an innocent person.  As for justice, it's as simple as this, until my money and the attorney that I hired changed the game, there was to be no justice, only a plea bargain, unjust, unenlightened, and totally wrong.