Standing trial is an intimidating prospect for most people. In fact, the American Bar Association found that 98% of people charged resort to plea bargains with the thought that it will lead to a more lenient sentence. In North Dakota, plea bargains are frequent and often accepted by judges. However, the idea of plea bargaining raises concerns about fairness in criminal justice systems.
Plea bargains in North Dakota
A plea bargain is a negotiation between the accused and the prosecutor that permits the defendant to plead guilty to a lesser charge in exchange for an abbreviated punishment. This arrangement eliminates the need for a trial as all parties come together on an agreement without needing court proceedings.
The argument against plea bargains
Critics of plea bargaining believe it is unfair and can lead to innocent people pleading guilty just to avoid harsher sentences. Additionally, plea bargains can allow repeat offenders to escape with much lighter sentences than they would otherwise receive, ultimately allowing a cycle of criminal behavior.
Prosecutors may use this tactic as leverage against defendants who lack the financial resources or legal knowledge required to represent themselves adequately in court. This means police or prosecutorial misconduct, such as withholding evidence or coercing a confession, can go unchallenged in a trial.
The argument for plea bargains
Proponents of plea bargains believe that they are necessary for an effective justice system. They argue that plea bargains save time and money, which law enforcement can put toward more serious criminal cases.
Further, plea bargains reduce the likelihood of someone that committed a small crime going to prison because they lack the funds to hire a criminal defense attorney. For example, an individual that commits a minor shoplifting offense with no prior record may avoid prison if they accept a plea bargain.
Every citizen or resident in America has a constitutional right to request a plea bargain. Both the judge and the prosecutor will decide whether to accept the plea bargain or reject it. Equally, you have the right to refuse any plea bargain that is offered. If a defendant rejects a plea bargain, then their case will go to trial, where the judge or jury will decide on it.
The debate around plea bargaining in North Dakota continues, with both sides making valid points. Ultimately, it is up to the individual’s judgment if a plea bargain is an appropriate solution for their situation.