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Judge John E. Turner (Ret.)

Plea bargains and their popularity

Washington residents who are facing criminal charges may find several options open for their defense. One common technique is the plea bargain. Prosecutors and judges consent to employ this legal expedient to keep the conviction rate up, clear cases through the system efficiently and make their jobs run more smoothly.

Judges have been known to have few objections to plea bargains. Criminal courts are overburdened and incapable of dealing with their case loads. Plea bargains move cases through the system with a minimum of effort. Criminal defense attorneys know as well that their clients appreciate the fact that such an agreement may result in lesser charges being on their records and lighter penalties that they may have to face.

Prosecutors have shown a marked preference for plea bargains as well. Any time a case goes to trial in front of a jury there is a chance that they will lose it, and it is generally better for most prosecutors to win more cases. A high conviction rate can foster a perception of effectiveness and toughness on crime, which might be useful when they seek reelection or reappointment.

A plea bargain may be an excellent option for people who have been accused of committing serious crimes. For example, if the defense attorney is able to strike a deal with the prosecutor that reduces a charge from a felony to a misdemeanor, the result may be a less deleterious effect on the defendant's future employment prospects. It should be noted, however, that the decision as to whether or not to accept such an agreement once it has been approved by the prosecutor is solely that of the defendant.

Source: Findlaw, "Plea Bargains and Judicial Economy", accessed on June 29, 2016

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