More and more I've been seeing documentaries or news specials on the corrupt plea system. Innocent people plea to crimes that they did not commit, guilty people seemingly get out of punishment because they work with the prosecution. That's how the news spins it. The first thing you should know about the news is that journalists write stories to sell papers. They spin reality to get their readers all riled up; they're essentially a profession of pre-internet trolls. So take anything you read with a grain of salt. That said, there is a bit of truth to it, and it all comes down to the economics of the judicial system.
Economics, as a study, often comes down to money, but there's more to it. People deal not only with the dollar amount costs, but also the costs in terms of time and effort, and the costs associated with a piece of paper that says "guilty" or "not guilty."
Due Process is a fancy term that, in essence, is the steady mechanics of the justice system. It involves finding guilt or innocence by a well defined procedure of investigating and presenting the facts and truth as they are known. It rejects sensationalism and actively attempts to ferret out the irrelevant circumstances through the adversarial system of justice. It is slow, deliberate, and strives to be objectively accurate. That means that it takes a lot of time and effort to find someone guilty or innocent.
Even then, even after Due Process, a judge and jury are impossible to predict. Guessing on how a trial might go is like predicting the Super Bowl - there's a lot of factors to consider, but ultimately the best guesses are little better than chance.
Punishment schemes are often archaic and draconian, and may not always serve the best interests of the public or the alleged offender. If, at the end of the Due Process, a person is found guilty, the person may be subjected to the unduly harsh punishment.
The plea system allows a person to take control over his or her punishment. It allows the prosecutors, acting for the State, to get creative and do what is best for the public and the person being sentenced. It allows a messy situation to be resolved in a fair way. Let's look at an example:
(This is not a real case, but it is just a common fact-pattern for education purposes. Any similarities to a real situation are purely coincidental)
===== Lil Diddy 'bout Vicky and Diane =====
Wanda and Diane have been best friends and roommates since college. They get along well and like their living situation and decide to move closer to the city. They find a beautiful three-bedroom apartment right in the center of town, so they put down their deposit and begin looking for another roommate. One of Wanda's old friends, Vicky, works in the area and moves in. Things go well for a few weeks. Vicky's biggest pet peeve is dirty dishes. Diane often leaves her dinner dishes in the sink and cleans them in the morning. One day Vicky and Diane each have a bad day at work. That night Vicky angrily brings up her dish-peeve with Diane. Diane gets defensive and a heated argument ensues. It ends when Diane says "FINE! I'LL JUST GO OUT TO EAT!!" and storms out of the apartment. On the way out of the apartment she pushes past Vicky and Vicky stubs her toe on a table. There's a small bruise. Vicky decides to call the police. The police arrive, get Vicky's vengeful and exaggerated statement (Wanda just got home and has witnessed none of the actual argument), they take pictures of the bruised toe, and cannot find Diane because she is out to eat. They get a warrant for Diane's arrest for battery, simple battery, and family violence battery. Diane gets home to the police leaving and they promptly arrest her.
Over the next few weeks Diane stays at a friend's place (she can't go back to her beautiful apartment as a condition of bond) and Vicky cools down. Technically, by Due Process, the prosecutor and a defense attorney could argue for months or years about the intricate details of the offense and defenses. They could take this to a jury trial and all the way to appeals! Down that route no outcome is guaranteed for either side and THOUSANDS of dollars will be spent by the State and Diane litigating the stubbed toe. Diane may eventually be found innocent and given no punishment, or she may be found guilty and sentenced to a harsh sentence (let's say, mandatory counseling, a year probation, and a $1000 fine).
Alternatively, the prosecutor could offer pretrial diversion with family violence counseling and a minimum fine (lets say, $300). Diane could take the offer and have this whole thing behind her in just a few months, with no criminal record.
So lets say Diane takes the deal. She completes the family violence counseling and pays the fine. By pretrial diversion the State drops the case once the fine is paid and the counseling is done. Diane moves back into her apartment with Wanda and Vicky and shares what she learned. Diane and Vicky make amends and come to an understanding about the dishes. They all live happily ever after.
===== The End =====
That little story is a good example of how the plea system might work for everyone's benefit. Instead of spending a LOT of money and time and effort to settle some little fuss, the plea negotiations allow a little extra fuss to make up for the little original fuss.
In real life there is always something bigger than dirty dishes and a stubbed toe, and often the prosecutors wont even try to talk to a defendant. If your case seems bigger than a stubbed toe, if you've been charged with an alcohol or controlled substance violation, or if there was just a misunderstanding between you and the police and you got a citation, effective pretrial negotiations by an experienced attorney will often get you the best result. That said, if the state doesn't want to offer you a good deal then you'll want an attorney who is ready, willing, and able to fight for your rights. I am an attorney who is experienced in both pretrial litigation and trial practice. I will work hard to get the best deal possible, and if the deal is no good then I will gladly argue your case at trial.
If I can help you in any way, please give me a call.