Deal or No Deal?
ANDY RADDING: In Plea Bargaining, you have made the judgment that the charges returned against you are going to lead to a conviction and you and I consult and we say yes it looks pretty much like if we go to a trial we are going to get nailed. Let us see what alternatives we can come up with the prosecutor.
BRYON WARNKEN: We would call that a settlement if we were taking a civil case, we call it a Plea Bargaining in a criminal case meaning instead of ducking out in the court room, the two sides negotiate a result.
ANDY RADDING: Listen, what kind of agreement can we reach to resolve this case.
BRYON WARNKEN: Everybody wants to kind of downsize their risk.
ANDY RADDING: No case is 100% locked and I, should things go the right way, could get an acquittal.
BRYON WARNKEN: It is just like a civil case. You got so many things you can negotiate for and both sides are trying to negotiate for the best result.
ANDY RADDING: The prosector's interest is going to be in:
a. Getting conviction.
b. Getting an appropriate sentence.
His view of an appropriate sentence for you is probably going to be significantly different from my view of an appropriate sentence for you.
BRYON WARNKEN: About six cases out of seven get resolved by plea bargaining.
The reality is, we have just got too many cases. We could not trial these cases if we wanted to.
Is Copping a Plea a "Cop Out"?
It's not just a popular game show. It's a popular practice in criminal courts throughout the United States.
A Necessary Evil?
Though trials make for good Hollywood fare, most of the real crime stories end in a deal. Given the sheer volume of cases in the criminal justice system, plea bargaining is, to many prosecutors, a necessary evil -- one that enables them to secure a conviction without carrying the file into a more lengthy trial. For the accused facing the prospect of a conviction, plea bargaining eliminates the uncertainty of the outcome and undoubtedly larger penalties if the verdict is ultimately unfavorable.
Turning State's Evidence: A Tool to "Divide and Conquer"
In some cases, an accused may trade testimony against a co-defendant in exchange for a more lenient sentence. By "turning state's evidence," the accused may help the prosecutor put more serious offenders behind bars. In this way, the process of plea bargaining allows the prosecution to "divide an conquer" the targets of a criminal investigation.
Copping a Good Plea Isn't Exactly Free
Despite these advantages, there are many critics who disdain the practice of plea bargaining. Some legal analysts disdain the pressure that the system may place on defendants who may "cop a plea" to crimes they didn't commit, simply to eliminate the chance of a bad break at trial. Others believe that this process favors defendants who are represented by particularly outstanding negotiators -- putting those with the cash to pay good lawyers at an advantage. Thus, "copping a plea" isn't always free.
Ultimately, It's Up to the Judge
Even when the defense and prosecution come to terms, ultimately, the judge must decide if it's a deal or no deal. The prosecutor may recommend that the judge approve a certain sentence, and in most cases the court will go along with it, but there always remains the potential that a judge could view the case differently and find the deal unjust. If so, the accused may either go to trial and hope for the best, or continue "negotiating" with the judge.