Essay: Criminal Justice Process

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Criminal Law

Is plea bargaining a good or bad practice in American criminal justice?

It is impossible to state that plea bargaining is an unequivocally good or unequivocally bad practice when placed in the broader context of the American criminal justice system. Plea bargaining certainly has its merits, and helps keep an already overwhelmed system from becoming completely unworkable. However, plea bargaining can make victims feel as if they have been deprived of both procedural and substantive justice, leading to a perception that the American criminal justice system is soft on crime and cares more about defendants than about victims.

There is no question that modern criminal courts are forced to contend with a complex and busy caseload. Furthermore, they have to walk a difficult line, one the one hand controlling crime and protecting society, while, on the other hand, being protective of individual rights. Most of the people who are intimately involved in the criminal justice system have a good idea of the value of a particular crime. In other words, they know the approximate sentence that a defendant with particular characteristics would receive for committing a specific crime. This enables those actors to make pre-trial determinations of the appropriate sentence for a particular defendant. Of course, different actors play different roles in these determinations. Clearly, it is the role of the defense attorney to try to obtain a below-average sentence for his client, while a prosecutor might seek an above-average sentence. However, because all of the daily actors in the criminal justice system are so well-versed in crime and punishment, plea bargains usually result in the appropriate sentence for the offender. In this way, plea bargains are very efficient and are a boon to a struggling court system. However, there are weaknesses in a criminal justice system whose convictions are largely the result of plea bargains; though a trial is a defendant's absolute constitutional right, the push to plea bargain may make it seem as if defendant's are penalized for seeking that right, since they are charged with the highest level of crime applicable if they are brought to trial.

2. Is preventative pretrial detention a just practice?

In a country that prides itself on the notion that all people are innocent until proven guilty, and that all people have an absolute Due Process right to a fair and complete trial, the idea of pretrial detention should shock the conscience of legal observers. The Constitution only recognizes one function for bail, and that is to secure people who are flight risks while they await trial. Moreover, the Constitution does not even contemplate a scenario in which a defendant would be denied a meaningful opportunity to make bail. However, the reality is that courts frequently set bail so high that defendants have no possibility of making bail, which results in de facto pretrial detention for those defendants. In fact, with the Bail Reform Act of 1966 and the Bail Reform Act of 1984, Congress recognized that bail was being used to ensure pretrial detention of certain defendants and took steps to validate that purpose. However, no amount of legislation can change the fact that the Founding Fathers envisioned bail merely as a means to secure a defendant's presence at trial, and not to detain a defendant prior to conviction.

It must be noted that pre- trial detainees face the same type of restrictions on personal liberty that convicted defendants face. They are restricted in movement, access to friends and family, opportunities to discuss their case with counsel, and opportunities to investigate on behalf of their defenses. Furthermore, pre-trial detainees present a different image to fact finders than those defendants who are released on bail before their hearings; physically, pre-trial detainees already look like convicts, who may send a subconscious message to the judge or the jury that is deciding a defendant's case. As a result, one can only conclude that pre-trial detention is unwarranted unless a defendant… [END OF PREVIEW]

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