As many as 95% of cases are settled by plea bargaining and never make it to trial. Does this mean all those defendants are guilty? Not necessarily. Many people take the plea bargain because it’s the lesser evil—if they go to trial and are found guilty the sentence will be much harsher. A considerable number of defendants who accept plea bargains are actually innocent.
In one episode of Law & Order, Jack McCoy makes a unique deal with a defendant who is definitely not innocent. In return for the locations of his murder victims, the defendant was offered his freedom. Sweet deal, but it was too sweet for the judge, who refused to recognize it even after the locations of the bodies were revealed. The defendant, of course, goes crazy, screaming, “We had a deal! We had a deal!” He did have a deal with McCoy, but he didn’t have one with the judge. It makes all the difference.
When both sides appear before the judge after a plea has been agreed upon, the judge has the discretion to either accept it or not. If he doesn’t, the defendant has the opportunity to withdraw his plea. An accepted plea is always subject to change until sentencing day.
For the DA, this public display of the judge wielding his or her power over him or her can not only be personally humiliating, it can seriously affect his or her credibility the next time it comes to a plea. When it comes to plea bargaining, all a DA has is his credibility.
And as with many aspects of the law, plea deals are subject to politics. What can occur is that while the defendant is awaiting sentencing, his or her crime might become a political hot-button issue, in which case it’s very possible that the mayor will put pressure on the DAs and judges to prosecute heavily. This is often how would-be deals are reneged upon. It’s a dirty game.
Post Categories: Crime & Justice, Law (In No Particular Order)Tags: court, dwyer, fio, Grand Jury, indictment, jack mccoy, judge, jury, justice, kevin dwyer, law, law and order, legal, order, plea, plea bargain, Reasonable Doubt, trial
©True Stories of Law & Order
True Stories of Law & Order series authors Kevin Dwyer and Juré Fiorillo weigh in on crime, justice, and their favorite television show.