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Plea Bargains and Judicial Economy

Plea bargains are a common part of American criminal procedure. One of the primary justifications for the use of plea bargaining in criminology is the principle of judicial economy. Judicial economy means that one goal of the legal system is to conclude cases in an efficient and speedy manner.

Without plea bargaining, criminal justice policymakers believe that there would be an increase in the number of cases and the number of trials needed. Many federal courts and state courts agree that if this happens, the caseloads will overwhelm the current criminal justice system.

Plea Bargains, Judges and Judicial Economy

Plea bargains often offer leniency to defendants. It also requires criminal defendants to waive the following rights protected by the Fifth and Sixth Amendments:

Defendants often accept plea bargains because the deal they receive is beneficial enough to waive their constitutional rights.

Plea bargains also benefit judges, who must approve all plea agreements. The primary benefit of plea bargains to a judge is they reduce their already crowded calendar of court cases. It takes months, if not years, to get a trial date for criminal cases, so judges are always eager to have parties engage in decision-making between themselves and keep the dispute out of the courtroom. Plea bargaining doesn't always occur at the pretrial level but often does.

Many judges also see plea negotiations as helpful in criminal law. Accepting a plea offer represents a compromise between the defense counsel or public defender and the prosecution. This, in turn, reduces potential disputes the parties will have in the future and will prevent parties from returning to criminal court.

Finally, most judges are aware that many state prisons are also overburdened. Many judges see the plea bargaining process as an effective way to deal with less heinous criminals. It reserves limited prison space for serious threats to the community.

Plea Bargains, Prosecutors and Judicial Economy

Prosecutors have their own calendars to worry about, and for the same reason as judges, they prefer to keep the calendar as free as possible. Especially in offices where funding and resources are a major issue, prosecutors are open to negotiating a plea agreement (at their prosecutorial discretion) rather than spending the time, money, and resources on a full jury trial.

Similarly, many prosecutors like plea bargains because they give the prosecutor flexibility and allow them to "screen out" smaller criminal offenses. By screening out lesser offenses, a prosecutor can bring the full power of their office to focus on serious criminal offenses. For instance, many prosecutors would rather focus their time on a high-profile murder case than a minor drug possession case, both for political and practical reasons.

Prosecutors know that judges want to keep trials moving and not fill up the court calendar, and prosecutors want to stay in good favor with the judge. Accordingly, prosecutors always want to appear ready to solve the dispute outside of the courtroom to avoid the wrath of an overworked judge.

Plea bargains also result in convictions, and prosecutors are measured by their conviction rate. Some prosecutors would rather spend a week negotiating a guilty plea for a lesser conviction than spend a year to achieve a greater conviction. They can still tout their conviction rate and claim to be tough on crime while doing it much more efficiently.

Finally, any experienced prosecutor knows how much of a gamble a trial is. Plea agreements are a sure thing. Even if the case seems airtight, most prosecutors would rather have a certain conviction over an uncertain trial. All it can take is one juror to wreak havoc on months or years of effort.

Even if a prosecutor is confident, there is a good chance they would rather settle the case by a plea agreement than roll the dice in the courtroom.

Learn More About Plea Bargains and Judicial Economy From an Attorney

Are you facing criminal charges? If so, you need guidance before accepting a plea deal, depending on your jurisdiction. A plea bargain could be the difference between serving a misdemeanor instead of a felony. It can also help you avoid the death penalty.

Perhaps you are an innocent defendant. You might have questions about sentencing guidelines, mandatory sentencing, trial penalty, and due process. Consult a skilled criminal defense attorney. An attorney is the only person with a duty to defend your interests.

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