Not too long ago I found myself facing two jury trials, one after the other, both with the same DA. We spoke about them and agreed that I’d probably win the first one and he would probably win the second one.
The exact opposite happened.
And that’s why most cases never go to trial … because everything is a gamble. Both sides would rather have something definite than gamble.
Some people who have no experience with the legal system have a strange idea that plea bargaining does not promote justice, when in fact it works just fine. The District Attorney asks for something way over here, I counter with something way over there, and when we meet in the middle — well, that’s probably where justice is.
Sometimes you have to go to trial. I refuse to take plea deals when they are no better than what I would get if my client would be found guilty. (This is especially true in very serious cases like murder or rape.) And sometimes my client insists on a trial, and the client’s wishes always prevail.
I advise all my clients though that every trial is a gamble. I’ve won cases I was sure I’d lose and lost cases I was sure I’d win, and every lawyer will tell you the same thing. They’ve even done social experiments where two separate juries have watched the exact same trial and have produced completely different verdicts.
Don’t get me wrong — it’s still the best system in the world. But no one should ever think that justice is perfect, that the good guys always win and the bad guys always lose, and that juries are never wrong.
(That’s one of the main reasons I am against the death penalty — I don’t believe there should be a penalty that is 100% irreversible when we don’t have a system that is 100% perfect.)
I went to court this morning ready for trial but my client decided at the very last minute to take the plea I had worked out for him months ago. He finally decided he wasn’t ready to gamble.
How do I feel about that, you ask? Well, personally, I like doing trials, and I like winning. I don’t mind the gamble.
But I’m not the guy going to jail if I lose. And that’s why it is ultimately up to my client to decide.
Plea bargains can certainly benefit both the defendant and the state, even at the same time. Your use of the terms “win” and “lose” remind me of gaming terminology, and sometimes that’s actually what seems to happen in the justice system; both sides want the best possible outcome, and realizing that it isn’t all-or-nothing, try to use their playing pieces advantageously.
This is what bugs me about the upcoming Democratic Presidential nomination process, which in this election cycle means playing the long game (SCOTUS noms). I’ve seen too many “[My candidate] or Bust” comments from the left lately, and that actually scares the poop out of me. I really really hope that most of them are shills from the right, trying to sow enough discord among progressives to keep people home on election day. That’s one conspiracy theory that I hope is true. *fingers crossed*
(I am also against the death penalty, for various reasons including yours. One of my biggest objections to capital punishment, however, is that murder is barbaric, whether an individual or a government is committing the act.)
The man who shot me took a plea bargain. I was glad. I had to testify at the hearing to determine if he should be tried as an adult or a juvenile (the judge decided he would be tried as an adult). It nearly made me sick. I was grateful not to have to testify at a trial. I felt like the verdict was fair — 30 years for attempted murder. (Less time for assault with a deadly weapon, and robbery.) Justice.
I also oppose the death penalty, for the same reason.