The problem with plea bargains is that they do nothing to enhance actual justice. In fact, they have the real effect of being a cancer upon the justice system and eating it up with corruption from the inside out.
Plea bargains do nothing to help the citizens of the society or the justice required for the proper punishment of crimes. Further, the only parties that plea bargains help are guilty criminals and lazy prosecutors. Last, they merely encourage the prosecution and conviction of innocent citizens who may not have the resources to fight a full blown prosecution effort and would rather plead guilty to a lesser offense for something they did not do, than to risk going to prison for a more serious crime that they are falsely accused of.
One of the most basic premises for the justice system is that the punishment fit the crime, and that the punishment be severe enough to deter future similar behavior. This idea is completely compromised under the plea bargain system, wherein criminals plead to lesser charges and receive lesser sentences than they deserve for the crimes they have committed. Society and their victims are not properly served or defended in these cases because neither an appropriate punishment is applied for the seriousness of the actual crime, nor are future instances of said crime deterred. If anything, it amounts to a subtle encouragement to continue in said actions because the punishment will be lesser than the severity of the crime and the risk to reward analysis will be skewed in favor of committing more crimes, leading to a simple economic decision on behalf of the criminal that more crimes should be committed.
The danger of the plea bargain for prosecutors is that it has the very real possibility of making them lazy. Criminals know a good deal when they see one – hence the entire point of a plea bargain and making it appealing to the guilty party to take it. This leads very quickly to the temptation for prosecutors to rack up as many potential charges as possible – whether merited or not – in order to intimidate the accused into taking a lesser charge and sentence, resulting in a conviction for the prosecutor without the work necessary of going to trial.
Again, neither the idea of justice nor the people themselves are well served here because there is an incentive for the prosecutor to pile on charges that they know are improper in the hopes of securing an easy conviction through intimidation. Another basic premise of the justice system is that individuals be tried only for crimes they have actually committed or are suspected of committing, not for trumped up charges that the representative of the state knows full well they have not committed. This sets a very dangerous precedent where an individuals life, property and reputation are placed in jeopardy for someone else’s career advancement.
The last danger, and often times result, of the plea bargain system is that innocent citizens are so intimidated by trumped up charges that they plead guilty to a lesser charge simply to avoid the dangers of potentially being convicted for something that they did not do. Defending oneself can be very expensive, and even financially devastating for an individual and their family. Many times it can be easier to take a smaller sentence than to risk going to trial and potentially being convicted of a larger crime, regardless of the innocence of the individual on both items. It’s a simple risk and reward decision, and one that places the justice system in serious peril.
If the justice system is to work properly, especially in the realm of limited government, it must prioritize itself so that all crimes are prosecuted. A backlog of cases insists on prioritization, so that the most serious ones are prosecuted first. This ensures that overzealous laws and ordinances are not able to be prosecuted, and so relieves the citizens of the burden of overly intrusive government working it’s way into their private lives. In this way, keeping the justice system busy on the most important cases, it becomes a self-regulating system that neither gives incentive to criminals and lazy prosecutors, nor runs the risk of needlessly criminalizing citizens. Each case must be tried in full and a decision rendered, with no incentives to less than forthcoming behavior by either the accused or the prosecutor.
There is a growing movement towards never taking a plea in which persons are encouraged to force the justice system to convict them for the crimes they are actually accused of. If a conviction cannot be obtained, then the prosecutor is encouraged – by way of a loss of time – to only bring legitimate charges, and law enforcement is encouraged to do the same.
The recent disclosure of incidents like that of former Utah State Trooper of the Year, Lisa Steed, admitting to violating DUI procedures, throws great doubt on the integrity of the judicial system, especially when many of these were adjudicated through the plea bargain system. All 200 of her DUI arrests are now suspect and subject to being overturned. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated case, merely a notorious one. This is only one example of the actions that are galvanizing many individuals to never take a plea.