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Putting Plea Bargaining in Perspective

One criticism of plea bargaining is that it leads to innocent people being convicted.  There is a public example that shows how. 

Imagine you are a lawyer for one the Duke lacrosse defendants.  The district attorney presents you with this deal: "Your client pleads to a misdemeanor.  If he behaves himself for 12 months, we will expunge his record."   If you were a lawyer for one of the accused, would you take the deal?

Before you yell out, "I would never tell an innocent client to plead guilty," consider this: If you refused the deal and went to trial, your client could face years in prison and would be required to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.  Is going to trial worth the risk?

I do not know a criminal defense lawyer would wouldn't say something like this to his client: "It sucks.  It's not fair.  We will likely win at trial, but the risk is too great.  What if we get the only 12 people in Durham who believe you're guilty?" 

Do you now see the problem with plea bargaining?  It has turned our system into one that is supposed to convict the guilty and free the innocent into a risk-management system.   It has turned lawyers into actuaries .  "Is going to trial worth the risk?"  is what lawyers ask clients.  Innocence has little to do with the decision to take a deal.