Monday, January 27, 2014

Why Innocent Defendants Take Plea Bargains?

This is blog is presented as a public service and for general criminal legal information by the Law Office of Vincent J. Sanzone, Jr., Esq.

277 North Broad Street
P.O. Box 261
Elizabeth, New Jersey
Telephone No. (908) 354-7006; Cell No. (201) 240-5716

It is without dispute that the State may not exert an unnecessary price for defendants that exercise their constitutional right to a jury trial.  United States v. Jackson, 390 U.S. 570 (1968); Garrity v. New Jersey, 385 U.S. 493 (1967); Griffin v. California, 380 U.S. 609, (1965)

That is the law, but the reality is that innocent defendants, both in State and Federal court often take a plea for something that he or she did not do, just to avoid losing at trial and doing double or triple the jail time after conviction.  Although legally the trial sentencing cannot impose a “trial tax”, upon the defendant after conviction, the reality of the situation is that with the draconian sentencing laws and guidelines, such as discretionary or mandatory extended terms, parole ineligibility, consecutive sentences, etc., defendants who refuse plea offers and lose at trial in most cases go to jail for a very long time.  The pressure to take a plea is so strong that very few defendants, whether innocent or guilty, will take the risk at losing at trial.  The cards are stacked against the defendant to such a large degree that taking a plea is the only option. 

The prosecutors in criminal cases have all the cards; they deal them as they choose.  They make the final decisions, they offer the pleas, and sometimes they are given on a take it or leave it basis.  They know their power and they use it to extract pleas.  Even judges sometimes are frustrated with the position that the prosecutors take, but they are powerless and cannot force to the prosecutor to be reasonable.  Often many good judges will attempt to 
appeal to the sensibilities and to the notion of fairness with the prosecutor, but those attempts are often futile.  Because the separations of powers, the executive and judicial branch are co-equals and neither branch can interfere with the other, most of the time the judge must remain silent.  Not to say that there are not some good prosecutors who attempt to do the right thing; however, in most cases prosecutors get their instructions from a chain of command, such as trial supervisors, reviewing committees etc.

Plea bargains it is argued, keeps the system alive because without plea bargains the judicial system could not function.  Because 95% of the criminal cases result in plea bargains and the system could not survive without the plea bargain system, plea bargains are a necessary evil which is necessary for the system to work.   This is true at the lower level, and begs the question.  The real question is who is controlling the plea bargain system, and why do the prosecutor’s have all the cards.  Why not equally penalize the prosecutor office if they lose at trial, in the form of a monetary settlement to the acquitted defendant or at lease a payment of his or her attorney fees.  As the system stands now the prosecutors have zero downside and all the upside.  If there was a penalty imposed when the prosecutor lost a case they would be more careful in pursuing only the meritorious cases and offering plea agreements that were fair. 

As it stands now every legislative body in ever State is making it more and more difficult for sentencing judges.  Every politician that wants to be reelected wants to pander to the public that he or she is hard on crime.  There is no end in sight.  Let’s be fair, and make the constitution work for all, even the criminally accused. 

Nobody knows when the table will be turned on them, and be unjustly accused of a crime.  Did Governor Christie or Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno ever thing just a few months ago that they would be accused of something, if true, would be the criminal charge of official misconduct?

Quote of the Day:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out-- Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out-- Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out-- Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me--and there was no one left to speak for me.

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