Plea Bargaining

The most common arguement offered on behalf of plea bargaining is that it
lifts the

burden of heavy caseloads from the shoulders of the courts. By ensuring that
most criminal

defendants enter a plea of guilty, plea bargaining eliminates the need for
time-consuming trial

procedures. Harold J. Rothwax, a Manhattan judge said, "We go to plea
bargaining out of

necessity, not out of desire. It is inescapable." Criminal defendants
charged with felonies could

completely overcome the court system if they coordinated their efforts.
"If even half of the 90%

of the defendants who now plead guilty should request trial, the judicial
system would break

down from overload", said B.J. George Jr. Although society would
certainly respond to a

substantially overburdened court system by allotting more resources to it,
such s responce would

likely be slow.

Proponents of plea bargaining argue that it allows the accused to have a
greater degree of

autonomy over the results of their cases. Unlike a system without a plea
bargaining, in which a

defendant either pleads guilty without meeting with the prosecutor or pleads
innocent and then

goes through the trial process, plea bargaining allows the defendant the
intermediate option of

pleading guilty to avoid a harsh penalty. This arguement sees plea bargaining
as an extra check

in the criminal justice system to ensure that the autonomy and liberty of the
accused is respected

by the state. Plea bargaining also protects innocent defendants from the
possibility of harsh

sanctions. Unfortunate innocent defendants who realize that the case them
against them is too

overwhelming to gain leniency from the judge or to win acquittal from a jury
may view plea

bargaining as an attractive alternative to trial. Without plea bargaining,
many of these innocent

defendants would be found guilty and sentenced. Of course, plea bargaining
does not violate

one\'s right to trial, as defendants always have the option to plead not
guilty and be tried by a

jury. Proponents of plea bargaining point out that prosecutors do not force
anyone to plea

bargain.

Although plea bargaining is not perfect, the pressures placed on the court
system make it

the best way to promote justice. Critics of the practice tend to focus only
on the relatively

insignificant number of cases where plea bargaining results in injustice.
When evaluating the

effectiveness of plea bargaining in promoting justice, it is important to
focus equally on its

strengths. In most cases, plea bargaining is a fair and efficient way to deal
with cases. Most

guilty defendants will be convicted with or without plea bargaining, and most
innocent

defendants will be acquitted. Therefore, plea bargaining is usually an
acceptable and more

efficient alternative to trial. One important positive effect that plea
bargaining has on the

criminal justice system is that it preserves the seriousness of the innocent
plea. With plea

bargaining, innocent pleas are few and far between, making the judge and
attorneys more

attentive during trials. Without plea bargaining, guilty defendants have less
of an incentive to

plead guilty and more of an incentive to go to trial. With more trials to
attend to, and with most

defendants being ultimately found guilty, the cases of the few innocent
defendants who need

trials the most might not recieve the proper amount of attention from judges
or attorneys.

The efficiency excuse can only be used by the most overburdened courts.
Prosecutors

working in rural areas with relatively low caseloads use plea bargaining just
as prosecutors who

work in major cities. Additionally, plea bargaining was used decades ago,
when courts in general

were not as overburdened as they are today. These observations, according to
opponents of plea

bargaining, suggest that necessity is not the only explanation for the
widespread use of the

practice. An alternative explanation not cited by plea bargaining proponents
is that the practice

lifts burdens not only from the courts, but from the shoulders of the judges
and attorneys who

work within them. Attorneys and judges realize that the trials require
significantly more personal

effort and time than plea bargaining. When the court has heard all of the
cases on the docket, the

judge and public attorneys are free to spend their time outside of the
courtroom. Thus, the

incentives for public attorneys and judges to use plea bargaining are often
personal. In light of

this observation, the often cited efficiency excuse does not seem valid. As
one scholar wisely

observed, "regardless of the caseload, there will always be too many
cases for many of the

participants in the system, since most of them have a strong interest in
being some place other

than court.



Plea bargaining presents a substantial threat to the liberties of the
accused, especially

those who are innocent. Prosecutors bargain with the harshest sentence that
they think the

defendant will accept in exchange for a guilty plea. Indeed, because judges
tend to sentence

convicted defendants who plead innocent with much harsher penalties than
defendants who

plead guilty. Defendants