Sunday, February 06, 2005

Newman and Plea Bargaining

Source here.

SN = Scott Newman

The following is from an article in Indy Men's Magazine.

IMM: You've opposed plea bargaining during your term in office, why is that?

SN: There are plea bargains and plea agreements. We have to have plea agreements for the simple reason that we prosecute 40,000 criminal cases every year. And we have roughly 15 criminal courts. Those courts can't handle 40,000 trials. If everyone demanded a trial on their case the system in Marion County would collapse. So there's a place for plea agreement. We've developed a principled, strong approach to it, which in almost every case is to demand a plea to the lead or most serious charge. That's one of the first things I did when I took office. So we're not routinely dumbing down our cases just to move them through the pipes.

IMM: What was the result?

SN: Everybody said the system would run off the rails. The National Law Journal called me the kamikaze prosecutor. But none of that happened. And I think we restored strength and integrity to the criminal justice system, which has given people some faith.

IMM: When you talk about dumbing down a sentence, what do you mean?

SN: In the business it's called charge bargaining, or you routinely drop a lead or more serious charge for a plea to a lesser charge just to keep the cases moving through the criminal justice system. The problem is, if you keep doing that, the batterer looks like a mischief maker, and the murderer looks like someone who was merely reckless. You create a self-sustaining system of dumbing down punishment and manufacturing more persistent criminals, who think they can get away with anything. The next time that person gets arrested and the judge looks at their record and tries to figure out what kind of bond needs to be set or how they need to be handled, it creates a false impression of the danger that person represents. That situation continues to repeat itself until you get a guy who really hurts or even kills somebody. Then a news reporter finds out this person has killed or raped before and gotten by with it. That is a system that's broken.

While this policy may have played well with the public, it was a an extreme problem with the mentally ill. Mostly they were without resources and many were homeless. Almost all had a public defender who have little time to work with an disorganized mentally ill person.

There is a well know fact in jail, that if a defendant takes a case to the “box” [jury], he would face the maximum sentence. This could mean a range from probation to years in prison. Many of the uneducated, disorganized, and poor mentally ill went with the higher bargains the prosecutor offered. Often though, the fact of their conviction, would come back to haunt them in the future with charge enhancements.

Charge enhancement is at the discertion of the prosecutor. For almost any criminal offense, there are actually a whole list of charges an alledged criminal can be charged with committing. Charge enhancement is trying to charge the offending party with the most serious crime and offense when possible.

Scott Newman seemed to favor this over any form of personal judgment and inspired all of his deputies to do likewise.


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