An overwhelming majority of court cases in the United States don’t end with a trial by jury but with a plea deal. Some people might wrongly assume that means that most people who are charged with crimes are guilty since they are willing to take a plea. If the U.S. wants to have a system that truly stands for justice, we need to rethink how we think about plea deals.
Role of Plea Deals
Ninety-five percent of the time, a case ends in a plea deal. Pleas usually happen during the pre-trial process. Instead of going through a trial, prosecutors’ offices will present the defendant with the option of making a plea deal. This type of deal can result in a more lenient sentence, and defendants will often make the difficult decision to accept it.
But, by taking a plea deal, a defendant must admit to guilt, and that means that they’re going to have a criminal conviction on their record. It’s no secret that a criminal record can negatively affect a person for the rest of their life.
Why People Take Plea Deals
Fighting a case is expensive and time-consuming, even for people who are financially well-off and can afford a good lawyer. Someone from a poorer background can get legal representation, but it’ll likely be via a public defender. These government-employed lawyers juggle a large number of cases. Due to their lack of time, they’ll likely advise their clients to take a plea deal.
It’s not that they believe them to be guilty, but they know that they won’t have enough time to prepare a proper case.
What Should Be Done?
To stop our dependency on plea deals, we must remember the purpose of the justice system. It’s not meant to label anyone who faces criminal charges as guilty. It’s meant to give everyone a fair shot at justice, no matter what their social status is. The argument that all defendants are to be presumed innocent until proven guilty must be kept in place. Overuse of plea deals corrupts our justice system and ruins lives.
If someone commits a crime and they want to admit to it to get a more desirable sentence, then a plea bargain is a good thing. However, misuse of the plea bargain treatment has given criminal records to people who don’t deserve them. Unless we stop using plea bargaining irresponsibly, the fairness of our justice system is going to be very much in doubt.
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