Radley Balko Pittsburgh Post Gazette on a national rise of out-of-control prosecutors dumping charges upon charges on defendents in order to overwhelm them into plea bargains:an interesting report in the
Nationally, for fiscal year 2004, 95.5 percent of the 51,666 convictions were reached through guilty pleas. That means that only 2,316 U.S. District Court cases across the country went to trial.
In the Western District of Pennsylvania, the percentage was just a bit lower. Of the 261 convictions that year, 94.3 percent were reached through pleas.
Mr. Kramer, who now teaches at Penn State University, believes the American court system has been acclimated to processing guilty pleas.
“We’ve created a barrier to any potential increase in jury trials,” he said. “If all of a sudden we had a 20 percent increase, it would be tremendously burdensome on the court system to accommodate those.”
“It’s a perfectly laughable system,” he said. “The prosecutors love it. The message is any sane defendant, guilty or innocent, ought to do the prosecutor’s bidding.”
To supplement this article, I found an older PBS interview with Yale professor of law and legal history John Langbein who puts it succinctly:
What is wrong with the plea bargain system in our courts today?
Plea bargaining is a system that is best described as one of condemnation without adjudication. It is a system that replaces trial, which is what our constitution intended, with deals.
Second, those deals are coerced. The prosecutor is basically forcing people to waive their rights to jury trial by threatening them with ever greater sanctions if they refuse to plead and instead demand the right to jury trial.