“What can you get me on this case?” That’s a pretty common question asked of criminal defense attorneys here in Orange County (and most other places, as well), but believe it or not–it’s not always legal to obtain a plea bargain. Sure, some judges ban plea deals after a case has gone past a certain point, noting that “there will be no plea agreements after docket sounding, all pleas at that point are blind to the bench”–meaning, essentially, that the judge wants a defendant to plea within a certain time frame, or all bets are off.
Other jurisdictions have taken plea bargain bans a step further. In parts of Alaska, New Orleans, California (Ventura County) and Michigan (Oakland County), plea bargaining has been terminated. Gone. Illegal. So, what is the result? In “Subverting Justice”, writer Robert Bidinotto argues that “ending plea bargaining [puts the] responsibility back into every level of our system: police [do] better investigating; prosecutors and lawyers began preparing their cases better; lazy judges were compelled to spend more time in court and control their calendars more efficiently. Most importantly, justice was served–and criminals began to realize that they could not continue their arrogant manipulation of a paper-tiger court system.” [Id at page 76]. I don’t agree with this position on almost every level, but you know what they say about opinions. That being said, many countries have outlawed plea bargains.
Even though plea bargains are sometimes a good thing, there are tons of problems with plea bargains. Most troubling for we criminal defense attorneys are the innocent citizens that accept deals due to fear. It’s heartbreaking. This problem is most common in cases where a client is totally innocent–yet the charges are so severe that the defendant pleas to a lesser offense so as to not risk life in prison. And, if you really want to see injustice spiral out of control, just look at any co-defendant case, where a few innocent citizens are arrested with a few guilty ones. The guilty ones are perfectly willing to testify against the innocent, if that testimony will gain them a favorable plea bargain. Fair–hell no. Reality–yes.
Plea bargains are very common in the criminal justice system (duh), as most citizens cannot afford to risk their freedom on a jury of six strangers from the community–as nice and friendly as they may be at times. Plea bargains are promoted in the criminal justice system because without them, the system would grind to a halt. There is absolutely not enough time or resources to pick a jury for every single lawsuit brought by the State of Florida against it’s citizens. Should we ban them as some jurisdictions have done? No. With a good criminal defense attorney, a citizen can make a well informed decision. A few prayers never hurts either…..