The Atlantic discusses the problem with plea bargaining: excessive prosecutorial power and over criminalization result in innocent people pleading guilty. The National Registry of Exonerations reports that of 2,006 recorded exonerations since the project started keeping track in 1989, 362 of those, or 18 percent, were based on guilty pleas.
The article discusses some possible solutions to make plea bargaining either more accountable or less common. They suggest the process could be altered to afford defendants more protection, or the jury trial could be simplified to ensure more people take advantage of this right.
1: Regulate the process. “Plea bargaining in the United States is less regulated than it is in other countries,” said Jenia Turner, a law professor at Southern Methodist University who has written a book comparing plea processes in several U.S. and international jurisdictions. As a result, states are independently adopting measures to inject the process with more transparency here, more fairness there. In Connecticut, for example, judges often actively mediate plea negotiations, sometimes leaning in with personal opinion on an offer’s merit. In Texas and North Carolina, along with a few other states, both sides share evidence prior to a plea.
“It’s all fairly straightforward, and wouldn’t require any real administrative framework, but it’s foreign,” Rappaport said. “If a defense lawyer approached a prosecutor and said, ‘Hey, let’s do away with voir dire and take the first 12 jurors who walk in the room,’ the prosecutor would be taken aback.”