A Guilty Plea? Really?? Are you or your client actually considering entering a guilty plea?It seems as though the American justice system has abandoned the fundamental system of public jury trials in favor of a system where guilty pleas are driven by a logic of prosecutorial power. If an accused has the audacity to insist on a trial, they are subjected to a world of pain and even ridicule which is not what our system is about.
Take a look at the recent sentence of the 23-year-old truck driver, who had no prior criminal record, who was sentenced to 110 years for accidentally killing four people because his brakes failed. NO ONE could believe this sentence!
The prosecutorial system will tell you that relying on a jury system over-burdens the judicial system. They will tell you that plea bargaining works just fine because people that are accused of crimes can make rational decisions without fear of punishment for exercising their right to trial by a jury. It’s not like in the movies where a plea bargain agreement is reached in the last few minutes of the episode, and everyone goes on their happy way. Plea bargaining is the result of the delivery of an ultimatum by the prosecutor who threatens double or possibly even triple the total sentence unless an agreement is reached. It amounts to legal coercion. Coercive plea agreements only make for a poor system, resulting in unfair or even improper pleas. People often don’t realize that many of these plea agreements come loaded with guarantees on the part of the accused that they won’t challenge the prosecutor or even the policy conduct involved in the case.
According to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, less than 3 percent of criminal cases have gone to trial in the last five decades. The remaining 97 percent have been decided by plea bargain: an arrangement made between a prosecutor, defense attorney, judge, and the defendant under which an individual enters a guilty or no contest plea in exchange for a reduction in the level of a charge, a reduced number of charges, or the recommendation of a lighter sentence.
It’s not right. Unless you are overwhelmingly and completely guilty, do not submit to a plea agreement.