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The problems with coercive plea bargains

On Behalf of | Aug 15, 2019 | Criminal Defense

There were roughly 80,000 federal cases prosecuted in 2018. Of those, only 2% went to trial. Data indicates that 97% of all federal convictions are obtained through plea bargains while 94% of convictions in state cases are resolved through plea bargains. There are several reasons why defendants in Maryland and throughout the country confess guilt in a vast majority of cases. For instance, prosecutors may add charges if an individual doesn’t take a plea deal.

If a person goes to trial, they could face a stiffer sentence than what a prosecutor offers before a trial. Using these tactics is part of an effort called coercive plea bargaining. This is illegal as it increases the chances that an innocent person could be convicted. Furthermore, the practice of coercive plea bargaining may lead prosecutors to engage in misconduct.

While some say that misconduct is rare, it’s difficult to determine how often it happens unless more cases go to trial. When prosecutors act improperly, cases can be dismissed even if there is overwhelming evidence against the defendant. This was true in the case of U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, who declined to take a plea deal and was indicted on several criminal counts. However, as the case progressed, a pattern of prosecutorial cheating was discovered. This led to the charges being dropped.

A defendant who pleads guilty to a crime could face several penalties associated with a conviction after a trial. Therefore, it may be in a person’s interest to dispute the charge and attempt to get it dismissed before or during a trial. Legal counsel may attempt to do that by having evidence suppressed by claiming that prosecutors, witnesses or others engaged in inappropriate conduct.