A Fairer Deal For Those Who Plea

Posted on: February 18th, 2013  |  No Comments

The Wall Street Journal reported that 97 percent of cases the Justice Department prosecuted last year ended with guilty pleas, up from 84 percent in 1990. The ratio is nearly as high at the state level.

Criminal justice today is for the most part a system of pleas, not a system of trials.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy

On its own, the high number of guilty pleas is not proof of a problem that demands an aggressive response across the federal and various state systems. The Justice Department already expects prosecutors to ensure that plea deals are fair. Federal judges have discretion to review deals. Public defenders on the federal level are generally excellent, which probably make things fairer than in some states.

But, recognizing the primary role that plea bargaining has come to play in the justice system, the Supreme Court this year began to extend judicial supervision over the process, ruling that defendants have a right to competent counsel in plea negotiations. The justices should not be the only ones examining the dominance of plea bargaining. State officials, legal scholars, the Justice Department and perhaps Congress should more thoroughly consider whether and how to make the nation’s system of pleas, not of trials, more predictable or procedurally sound.

via The Washington Post

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