Sometimes, based on assessments made on a case-by-case basis, plea bargains make good legal sense for defendants in New York criminal courts. But taking a plea bargain deal is not always in a defendant’s best interests. Here, we’ll discuss some of the pitfalls of plea bargains and factors that defendants should consider before making a decision.
What are plea bargains and why are they important?
Plea bargains are among the many tools a criminal defense team has to produce the best result for their clients. A plea bargain is a pre-trial agreement reached by the two parties in the proceedings, the state (government) and the defendant, in which the defendant agrees to plead guilty to the crime he or she is accused of, forgoing the right to trial.
In return, the defendant is granted a more lenient sentence than he or she would otherwise receive if the case went to trial and the jury returned a “guilty” verdict. Theoretically, this is a win-win scenario because the defendant receives less severe penalties and the state saves precious public resources on the expedited legal proceedings. Plea bargains are incredibly common in criminal defense cases.
Problems with with plea bargains
The main problem with plea bargains, as uncovered in research conducted by a team of criminal defense experts, prosecutors, judges, and academics, is that there is “substantial evidence” that innocent defendants are pressured into accepting plea bargains by prosecutors who threaten them with extremely long minimum sentences for the crimes with which they are charged.
In this way, police misconduct and other improprieties by agents of law enforcement and the criminal justice system are often covered up. In criminal defense cases that go to trial, these injustices would often have been exposed at trial after attorneys gain access to all of the evidence gathered by the state. The frequent use of plea bargains also worsens racial inequality, as minorities generally have less effective legal representation than their white counterparts.
In some cases, plea bargains make sense. But the criminal justice system has been shown to abuse the process to maximize conviction rates. Defendants must be fully aware of their rights to make the most informed decision possible.