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Courts, Criminal Trials, And Sentencing

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Autor:  anton  07 November 2010
Tags:  Courts,  Criminal,  Trials,  Sentencing
Words: 1674   |   Pages: 7
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Courts, Criminal Trials, and Sentencing

Plea-bargaining has been a method used in the United States stemming back after the period of the Declaration of Independence. It has been used as a way to keep jails from being over-crowded with the hopes of giving offenders a second chance to rehabilitate themselves. On the other hand, are we giving some criminals an easy out for their crimes? Or are we giving individuals a second chance to redeem themselves? In this paper, I will discuss the history behind plea-bargaining as well as pros and cons of it.



The history of plea-bargaining dates back to 1633, where Galileo was on house arrest from the Inquisition in exchange for his reciting penitential psalms weekly and recanting Copernican heresies (Olin, D. 2002). In the United States, recorded history signifies the beginning of plea-bargaining right after the Declaration of Independence era. In the 1800’s, plea-bargaining was entering a guilty plea in exchange for a lesser sentence. By the middle to late 1800’s, criminal investigations became more defined in terms of police work and lawyers involvement. The court system was defined by municipal and police courts to hold minor prosecutions as crimes increasingly grew. In the 19th century, jury trials were prescribed for almost all criminal offenses (Rabe, 2002).

Plea-Bargaining Today

There are two different types of plea-bargaining:

(1) Charge Bargain - A charge bargain occurs when the prosecutor allows a defendant to "plead guilty to a lesser charge," or to only some of the charges that have been filed against him, and:

(2) Sentence Bargain - Sentence bargaining sometimes occurs in high profile cases, where the prosecutor does not want to reduce the charges against the defendant. A sentence bargain may allow the prosecutor to obtain a conviction to the most serious charge, while assuring the defendant of an acceptable sentence.

As criminal courts become ever more crowded, prosecutors and judges feel increased pressure to move cases quickly through the system. Trials can take days, weeks or sometimes months while guilty pleas can often be arranged in minutes. In addition, the outcome of any given trial is usually unpredictable but, a plea bargain provides both prosecution and defense with some control over the result.

For these reasons and others, and despite its many critics, plea-bargaining is very common. More than 90% of convictions come from negotiated pleas, which means that less than 10% of criminal cases result in a trial. And though some still view plea bargains as secret, sneaky arrangements that are antithetical to the people's will; the federal government and many states have written rules that explicitly set out how plea bargains may be arranged and accepted by the court.

In theory, a plea bargain may be negotiated at any time after an arrest. In practice, however, the time to plead depends on the court and the jurisdiction. Some jurisdictions allow plea bargains only during certain phases of the criminal process. In many other places, however, plea bargains can be worked out virtually any time -- from shortly after the defendant is arrested (before the prosecutor files criminal charges) up to the time a verdict is reached -- even during trial itself. In addition, if the trial results in a hung jury (the jurors are split and cannot make the unanimous decision required), the prosecution and defense may (and often do) negotiate a plea rather than go through yet another trial (Nolo Law for All, 2004 â„–).

Within the United States, not all jurisdictions use plea-bargaining, although most do. Today, with the magnitude of criminal cases on both federal and state levels growing plea-bargaining is used quite often. For most defendants, the principal benefit of plea bargaining is receiving a lighter sentence for a less severe charge than might result from taking the case to trial and losing. Thus, it is inevitable that if the defendant did not take the plea-bargain he would suffer a lot severe penalty.

Reasons why a defendant would accept a plea-bargain:

(1) Getting Out of Jail - Defendants who are held in custody who do not qualify for release on their own recognizance or who either do not have the right to bail or cannot afford bail may get out of jail immediately following the judge's acceptance of a plea. Depending on the offense, the defendant may get out altogether, on probation, with or without some community service obligations. Or, the defendant may have to serve more time, but will still get out much sooner than if he or she insisted on going to trial.

(2) Resolving the Matter Quickly. This has the intangible benefit, touched on above, of providing resolution to the stress of being charged with a crime. Going to trial usually requires a much longer wait and causes much more stress than taking a plea bargain.

(3) Having Fewer or Less Serious Offenses on One's Record. Pleading guilty or no contest in exchange for a reduction in the number of charges or the seriousness of the offenses looks a lot better on a defendant's record than the convictions that might result following trial. This can be particularly important if the defendant is ever convicted in the future. For example, a second conviction for driving under the influence (DUI) may carry mandatory jail time; whereas if the first DUI offense had been bargained down to reckless driving, there may be no jail time for the "second" DUI.

Even for people who are never rearrested, getting a charge reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor, or from a felony that constitutes a strike under a "three strikes" law to one that doesn't, can prove to be a critical benefit. Some professional licenses must be forfeited upon conviction of a felony. Future employers may not want to hire someone previously convicted of a felony. Felony convictions may be used in certain court proceedings (even civil cases) to discredit people who testify as witnesses. Felons can't own or possess firearms. And in many jurisdictions, felons can't vote.

(4) Having a Less Socially Stigmatizing Offense on One's Record - Prosecutors may reduce charges that are perceived as socially offensive to less offensive charges in exchange for a guilty plea. For example, a prosecutor may reduce a molestation or rape case to an assault. This can have a major impact on the defendant's relationship with friends and family. Perhaps even more critical, sometimes defendants convicted of stigmatizing offenses may be at a greater risk of being harmed (or killed) in prison than if they are convicted of an offense that doesn't carry the same stigma.

(5) Avoiding Hassles - Some people plead guilty -- especially to routine, minor first offenses -- without hiring a lawyer. If they waited to go to trial, they would have to find a good lawyer and spend both time and money preparing for trial.

(6) Avoiding Publicity - Famous people, ordinary people who depend on their reputation in the community to earn a living and people who don't want to bring further embarrassment to their families all may chose to plead guilty or no contest to keep their names out of the public eye. While news of the plea itself may be public, the news is short-lived compared to news of a trial. And rarely is a defendant's background explored in the course of a plea bargain to the extent it may be done at trial.

(7) Keeping Others Out of the Case -Some defendants plead guilty to take the blame (sometimes called the "rap") for someone else, or to end the case quickly so that others who may be jointly responsible are not investigated (Nolo Law for All І).

These are just a few of the benefits of accepting a plea-bargain.

Plea-Bargaining Outside the United States

Plea bargaining does not only exist in the United States. Other countries such as Australia, Canada, Germany, and the United Kingdom use plea-bargaining as a means to move cases swiftly through the court system.

Like the United States, plea bargaining techniques are similar to those in these countries.

Plea-Bargaining Pros and Cons

As with everything in life plea bargaining has it’s pluses and minuses. Depending if you are the defendant or plaintiff in a criminal matter, plea bargaining can end up being on your side. The negative side of plea bargaining is if you have a person charged with numerous charges and they are dwindled down to lesser charges with not all of the original charges sticking it can mean jail time or just probation. Where is the justice in this matter?

A pro can be considered probation in itself can be a sentence, not as severe as jail time which loses your ability to sustain a normal life. No one looks forward to jail, however everyday in jail would make an individual think what he or she what caused they to be there in the first place.

Another negative side to plea-bargaining is if a repeat offender receives a plea bargain from his or her actions, how are they to learn that what they did was wrong? In my opinion, this allows them to continue committing crimes until their luck runs out, where they finally go to jail for their actions, then it could be too late. He or she at that point could have committed far worse crimes then they did before because they had gotten away with it.

Another pro side of plea-bargaining can be if a normal upstanding individual of society made a mistake, this allows them the freedom to get past it and move on.

In closing, plea-bargaining is an effective tool that can be very easily abused by one that has gotten to know the legal system. Then again, it is an effective tool that speeds up court procedures, being cost-effective, and perhaps enabling individuals to get on with their lives, no matter what the outcome is.

Olin, D. (2002, September 29). Plea Bargain. The New York Times Magazine.

Rabe, G. & Champion, D. (2002). Pretrial Procedures: Plea Bargaining. Criminal Courts Structure, Process and Issues. (pp. 219). New Jersey: Prentice Hall, Inc.

Plea Bargains: Why and When They're Made. (2004). Nolo Law for All.â„–

Defendants’ Incentives for Accepting Plea Bargains. (2004). Nolo Law for All. І

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