The topic is better framed by Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Michael Donnelly, who says that prosecutors and defense attorneys should 1) negotiate the plea to a charge that reflects the crime committed, 2) go to trial or 3) drop the case. It is true that guilty pleas ought to form to some semblance of the facts. I am, however, opposed to replacing advocates' judgment with more rules. Judge Donnelly’s view -- that in morals, ethics, and judgment, there ought be no relativism -- is completely understandable but also runs against one of the natural implications of the adversarial U.S. Criminal Justice System: adversarial parties, not judges, live with the consequences of the lawsuit’s end result and are in the best position to calculate and determine what level of risk each side is willing to tolerate. Prosecutors and defense attorneys should have the freedom to negotiate any plea that is appropriate under the circumstances.
The attorneys are in the best position to understand the facts and the law concerning their case. A prosecutor may decide it is necessary to reduce a charge to achieve some level of accountability than -- to use a baseball analogy -- swing for the fences and strike out. A defendant, who may be entirely innocent of a charge, may elect to enter a guilty plea because he has been convicted four times previously of violent offenses and won’t be able to overcome questionable circumstantial evidence. Judge Donnelly’s second and third positions – that lawsuits are all or nothing -- assume that the triers of fact (judges and juries) are in the only position to determine justice. Because juries and judges are not roads to perfect truth (or perfect adjudication), attorneys and parties ought to be given leeway when compromise must be reached.
Rather than push for more rules, reason and common sense ought to prevail. Parties ought to negotiate a plea to a charge that reflects the crime committed. The article references a person who is charged with rape and pleads guilty to aggravated assault. The judge doesn't like it. But under the right facts, it could possibly make sense. Prosecutors should not overcharge an offense to leverage a plea deal. Defendants should be given more opportunity to enter Alford pleas (a plea of guilt where the defendant maintains his innocence). If the defendant pleads guilty and receives the consequences of a guilty person, why is the state concerned with the defendant’s human desire to maintain a level of dignity and pride and maintain his innocence? Sometimes a person is innocent but the circumstances compel him or her to plead guilty. A topic for another post…
I’m all for charges that reflect the crimes committed. I’m all for reason and common sense. And when those things fail, I’m all for “boxing it up.”