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Pressure can make plea bargains hard to refuse

On Behalf of | May 5, 2024 | Criminal Defense |

The vast majority of the criminal prosecutions in Colorado and around the country are resolved when defendants enter into plea agreements. Some people choose to plead guilty because the evidence against them is overwhelming, but many others accept pela deals because they fear what prosecutors refer to as the trial penalty. Nine out of 10 federal defendants plead guilty, and the trial rates in Texas, Pennsylvania, California and Florida are less than 2%.

Efficiency and expediency

During each court day in the United States, a criminal case is settled by a plea bargain every two seconds. The sheer volume of criminal cases places great pressure on prosecutors and judges to work quickly, which has created a situation where efficiency and expediency take precedence over justice and fairness. To make plea offers difficult for even an innocent defendant to refuse, prosecutors dangle the carrot of time served and wave the stick of mandatory minimum sentences.

Time served and mandatory minimums

About 400,000 criminal defendants are sent to jail in America each day to await trail. Some of them are considered flight risks or dangers to the community, but most of them find themselves behind bars because they cannot afford to post bail. When someone has spent months in jail awaiting their day in court, a plea offer that gives them credit for their time served can be very appealing. The criminal laws in every state have mandatory minimum sentences for serious crimes. Prosecutors can make their plea deals more appealing by charging offenders with crimes that have mandatory minimums and then offering concessions that allow judges to show leniency.

Protecting the innocent

The criminal justice system in the United States should protect the innocent, but heavy caseloads and long court dockets have created a situation where speed and efficiency are more important. Even an innocent defendant would find a plea bargain hard to refuse if it gives them credit for the months they have spent behind bars while awaiting trial and allows them to avoid a harsh mandatory minimum sentence.

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