Are plea bargains really such a bargain?

March 5th, 2015 by Attorney Dan Carman

Despite the popularity of criminal courtroom television dramas such as “Law & Order” and “Matlock,” they are not 100% accurate reflections of American criminal process. Instead of jury trials, many cases are resolved through plea bargains.

These negotiations are agreements in which a defendant agrees to plead guilty to a lesser charge, to only one of several charges, or to the original charge along with the prosecution’s recommendation for a sentence that is usually under the statutory maximum. Most plea bargains are subject to the approval of the court.

The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that as much as 90 to 95 percent of state and federal court cases are currently resolved through plea bargaining.

A Fair Process?

Many defendants choose to enter pleas because they perceive going to trial as risky since it’s impossible to predict what a jury will decide. Nevertheless, there is some uncertainty regarding the fairness of the plea bargaining process.

Supporters of plea bargains argue that judicial economy and efficiency necessitates negotiation – that there are simply too many indictments straining the limited resources of the prosecutors and the courts to effectively deal with them all with a jury trial.

Opponents claim that not being able to take a plea deal would help impartiality because budgetary constraints would allow only the prosecution of cases with strong evidence to convict. Thus, fewer innocent defendants would be coerced into guilty pleas.

Steve Nunn & His Plea

Close to home, well-known convicted Kentucky felon Steve Nunn is currently contesting his 2011 guilty plea to the murder of his ex-fiancée. He wants to withdraw his guilty plea on the grounds that his former attorney gave him bad advice about pleading guilty rather than going to trial in a death penalty-eligible case. Nunn claims that in exchange for a plea and a sentence of life without parole, his lawyer confirmed that a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the victim’s family would be dismissed. However, the suit was not dismissed and Nunn was found liable in 2013 for more than $24 million. If the judge were to decide to accept the withdrawal, the case could start over with a trial and Nunn would be eligible again to face the death penalty.

If you have questions about the plea bargaining process, contact Lexington criminal defense attorney Dan Carman today by calling (859) 685-1055 or by filling out this online contact form.