CRIMINAL JUSTICE ISSUE – Plea Bargaining.
Many times Plea Bargaining is not a satisfactory way of dealing with a Criminal Defense Case. This short discussion is a juxtaposition of the two basic opposite ends of the spectrum’s reasoning for not being in favor of plea bargaining. The Law Enforcement Crime Control Perspective and the Civil Libertarian Due Process Perspective are the two sort of polar ends of the spectrum of philosophy with respect to Criminal Justice. Law enforcement basically sees plea bargaining as “undesirable because defendants can avoid conviction and responsibility for crimes they actually committed”. Civil libertarians are against plea bargaining because “when agreeing to negotiate a plea, the accused forfeits a long list of legal protections afforded under the bill of rights”.
This discussion is going to cover the following two questions: “Do plea bargains sacrifice too many defendant rights, or are too many benefits offered to (potentially) guilty suspects? Conversely, how might plea bargains offer the justice system an easier method by which to alleviate congestion on packed court dockets?” I think it can rightly be viewed as a little bit of both: too much of a sacrifice and too many benefits. I think it is also definitely the only way to deal with such a crammed docket. I also think that there is an inmate based perspective which needs to be taken into consideration and I call it the “defeatist perspective”.
First let me address my statement that the plea bargain process is a little bit of both: too much sacrifice of rights and too many benefits offered. No equation for human compromise can be perfect. This is inherent in the definition and meaning of the word compromise. Too many benefits are offered to “probably guilty” people who are most likely very dangerous people. I say this from a retributivist perspective. When our prosecutors offer manslaughter pleas when they have a murder suspect, it doesn’t sit right with most people. These are the situations where family members sometimes attempt to murder the defendant. This is because of a natural sense of injustice. The prosecutor does this almost always because of a lack of clear and convincing evidence. I am certain that murder trials are not just cleared off of the docket.
The flipside of the civil libertarian perspective is interesting, especially when it comes to the idea of “victimless” crime. Really, no crime is victimless. There are so many factors that come into play when a person breaks the law. Let’s take the diminished effectiveness of a drug user to their family, community and society at large. Internally the drug user is always worried about being caught. This takes up extra time and energy that should be spent on family time, thus making our society a better place. The legislature has determined for good scientific reasons that drugs are to be controlled in a way that is less harmful to the human organism. We are supposed to get prescriptions. Street drug use leads to a diminished life and fuels violent crime. These cases are cleared off the docket if a person oftentimes chooses rehabilitation in lieu of incarceration. I think this is a good area of focus. It is important to fast track these types of cases so that a person can get help and quit fighting against what they know to be true. The “sacrifice” of rights is a concept which keeps some people enslaved for years.
I mentioned the defeatist perspective. When kids go to juvenile hall, they learn the phrase, “the system is set up for failure”. This is the idea that the public defenders are second rate attorneys who are lazy and really work for the prosecution and the cops and just want people to plead guilty so they can go home and tip back martinis. I mean, it fits right in with drug and alcohol attitudes that the world is against a person and everybody is conspiring against a person. This is a juvenile attitude that persists into adulthood and it is because an inmate fails to take responsibility. This leads to multiple return trips to juvenile hall and then adult jail. I’ve seen it in kids and adults and I think that it is an unfortunate effect of the plea bargain process. If a case went to trial a person would more likely see all the reasons why they are guilty and need to amend their behavior at a younger age.
The fact that we can help kids at a younger age to have a different attitude is why I started www.allinservice.org, the website The All In Service Network, a not-for profit unincorporated free movement of professionals, citizens, clergy and other community leaders who all work to put together the same type of project within their different community groups so that they can help kids on juvenile probation to complete their court ordered community service hours and also at the same time draw them into a different social situation, thus effectively diverting them out of a previous negative and potentially recidivist situation.