Oct 15, 2007

a Texas judge talks about plea bargaining

For an interesting real-world perspective on issues raised by the current resolution, check out PBS's interview with Judge Michael McSpadden. Some highlights:
What is your role in a plea bargain?
Oversee it, supervise, and make sure that it's within the bounds of our community, what our community expects that plea bargain to be.

I can either accept or reject any plea bargain. If the plea bargain is made, the court's responsibility during the admonishments or in the litany of warnings -- I make sure that that defendant who is pleading guilty or pleading no contest is doing so in an intelligent, voluntary manner, so that he knows exactly what he's doing....

But plea bargains are not transparent in terms of getting at the truth of what happened.
In the great majority of the cases, they want to plead. They know they're guilty. They know they've got the goods on them, so they're trying to make out the best deal they can possibly make. That's the great majority of cases we deal with.

You certainly have to understand that plea bargaining only works if you have experienced competent defense attorneys, experienced competent prosecutors, and a judge who will oversee, make sure this is done correctly. The human element will always [need] be there in order for the plea bargaining system to work properly....

What about times when innocent people plead guilty?
All I can do when I go out there is go through the admonishments. If I feel that anyone's qualifying in their response, [I say], "Are you pleading guilty because you are guilty?" There's a long hesitation, and they'll say, "No, Judge, I really just feel like I have to," I'm not going to take that plea; we're going to set up a trial. As simple as that. If at any time during the litany of admonishments that I give out there, if I in any way perceive this person pleading guilty because of other reasons than being guilty, I'm not going to take the plea. We're going to automatically set up a trial....

But the plea is the easier way for the defense attorney.
A lot of times, the retained attorney gets more for going to trial. They're paid more. So they're going to want a jury trial rather than a plea at times....
The whole thing is worth perusing.

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