California plea bargains: Is justice being served?

The purpose of the United States criminal justice system is to ensure that citizens receive a fair trial when they are accused of breaking the law. The belief is that people in Alameda County are innocent of a crime until they are proven guilty and this means that it falls upon the prosecutor to present evidence linking them to the criminal act.

When someone is accused of fraud, theft or assault, one option they have is to accept what is known as a plea bargain. A plea bargain is essentially an agreement where the person agrees to plead guilty in exchange for a lesser charge and thereby, receive a lighter sentence.

Plea bargains in California

According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, there are instances when a person is not eligible for a plea bargain. Cases involving DUI, violent sex crimes or violent crimes where the alleged perpetrator used a weapon, are generally exempt from plea bargains. However, if the prosecutor has no witnesses and the evidence is not that strong, the prosecutor may be able to offer a deal in order to gain a conviction.

Last year, a man in Fresno took a plea bargain after being charged with domestic violence. According to KFSN, the man, who was the city's former fire chief, was ordered to take a parenting class and received a three year sentence of probation. In return, he pleaded guilty to criminal threats and domestic battery, which were misdemeanors.

The facts

Before people agree to a plea deal, it is important for them to understand what the facts are concerning these agreements. Many people are already aware that plea bargains can help people who are guilty of the crime get a lower sentence and avoid serious charges. People can also resolve their legal issues at a faster rate, allowing them to move forward with their lives. Frontline points out that plea bargains save time and money, preventing the legal system from collapsing.

On the other hand, some people argue that the plea bargain prevents innocent people from having their case heard in court. For example, people facing false allegations may accept a plea bargain even though they are innocent, due to the amount of pressure placed on them. Other arguments against plea bargains include:

  • Defendants do not know the extent or strength of the case against them.
  • Courts may or may not agree to the terms of the agreement.
  • In most cases, a person cannot have the plea bargain revoked once it is presented.
  • Prosecutors may make such a tempting deal that people are reluctant to take a risk, even if they are innocent.
  • There is a lot of pressure on prosecutors to resolve cases quickly.
  • Both innocent and guilty people plead guilty in plea bargains.

Before people agree to a plea bargain, it is important for them to carefully consider these facts and think about the effect pleading guilty will have on themselves and their families. A criminal conviction can prevent people from getting jobs, interfere with their career and cause unnecessary financial hardships.

When people are arrested and facing criminal charges they should meet with an experienced criminal defense attorney to discuss their legal rights and options.