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Plea Bargaining: Guilty Pleas that are Not Knowing Voluntary or Intelligent

Posted by Dmitry Gorin | Nov 30, 2008 | 0 Comments

Plea bargaining is an integral part of the American criminal justice system. Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyers and prosecutors rely on the process both in state and federal courts to resolve over 90% of criminal cases, without a jury trial. The process is essential to the proper functioning of the system, as there are simply insufficient court resources to provide a jury trial to every single defendant charged with either a misdemeanor, DUI, or felony offense.A plea bargain is like any binding legal contract. The prosecutor and the defendant, through the assistance of his lawyer, agree on terms that they must honor in the future. But what about a siuation where a defendant feels that he was not adequately represented by his lawyer during a plea bargain with the prosecutors? What if the defense lawyer did not do an adequate investigation or the prosecutor withheld favorable evidence? The defendant would have an argument that his plea was not knowing or intelligent because it was based on improper advice or prosecutorial misconduct.Withdrawing from a plea bargain does not get rid of all the criminal charges. It simply means the defendant can now contest the charges with a jury, and the prosecution is not bound by the lower sentence it had offered the defendant as part of the plea bargain.A recent example from the Los Angeles criminal courts comes from a well-known federal case dealing with illegal wiretapping by a private investigator. A well-known movie director was able to argue that he can withdraw his guilty plea to an information charging him with making false statements to a federal agent. After the plea, and conviction, he was facing a four-month prison sentence.The appeals court ruled that a reasonable person in defendant's position would not have pled guilty if he had been properly advised by counsel as to the possibility of suppressing the evidence incriminating him in the Anthony Pellicano wire-tapping scandal.The Defendant, who directed such films as Predator, Die Hard, and The Hunt for Red October, falsely told agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigations that he had hired Pellicano as a private investigator one time in connection with his divorce, but had no knowledge of Pellicano Tagged as: california criminal laws, vandalism pc 594


Dinah Bee Menil on May 30, 2010 at 10:34 p.m. wrote: I can refere you these san francisco Justin Wedell on December 1, 2009 at 5:23 p.m. wrote: Is plea bargaining necessary? Yes. Is it right? No. Unfortunately, we operate in a system that can simply not address every single case according to its current jury trial methods. This leaves us between a rock and a hard place in terms of prosecuting criminals and results in the inevitable bargaining down of sentences and consequent denigration of justice. The issue here is not that there is no punishment, but that very often the punishment is not made to fit the crime committed. The real losers here aren't those being tossed in jail despite lesser sentences, but the victims of their crimes to whom the criminal justice system offers no vindication. Rape victims, assault victims, burglary victims – all find themselves caught in an odd limbo of negotiated retribution. Of course, the implications for the broader society are even worse. Our system perseveres because of a widespread faith in its ability to administer fair and equal justice across the board. But as more of us are spurned by its bartering policies in the sentencing and processing of criminals, something's got to give. Turning our legal system into a bizarre of wheeling and dealing criminal justice is an affront to our society's decency and the very values upon which the system has been built. That said, plea bargains should start to take greater account of those on the other side. Those who though they are not facing prison time, have already faced something far worse – an assault upon their ultimate pursuit of happiness. Let us not completely smother their faith in the ability of the system to right such an egregious wrong. Car Insurance Guy on November 10, 2009 at 12:34 p.m. wrote: Ah!!! at last I found what I was looking for. Somtimes it takes so much effort to find even tiny useful piece of information. Nice post. Thanks Phils sabordo comm 174 on December 13, 2008 at 12:48 a.m. wrote: The punishment really does not fit the crime. A major problem with our courts system is the process of plea bargaining. major convictions are brought down and even in many cases the accused will plead guilty simply because of fear that it may get worse if tried in court. If one is truly innocent, they should not be afraid or pressured into taking a plea bargain since this essentially removes democracy from our court system. Jessica Basile (Comm 174) on December 12, 2008 at 8:54 p.m. wrote: Withdrawing plea bargains should not always be accepted. If the accused does not understand the plea bargain then they should not have accepted it in the first place. After accepting, they shouldn't be able to back out and say they didn't understand the terms. In this case, the defendant, McTiernan, applied for several continuances of his sentencing date and then conveniently suggested that he didn't understand his plea bargain. Although it is possible for some to enter into a plea bargain without understanding the conditions, many of those cases often have court appointed attorneys which are too busy to provide adequate information to the defendant. However, a well-known movie director has the time and money to hire attorneys that will put most of their time and effort into the case. With this being said, the director should have just faced his punishment instead of trying to avoid the inevitable. Yulanda Au, CS 174 on December 12, 2008 at 5:40 p.m. wrote: In my opinion, plea bargaining is important in our American criminal justice system because it saves time, and it is certainly impossible for all cases to be heard by a jury or judge. The downside of plea bargaining is that criminals may not get a lower sentence than they may actually deserve and sometimes innocent people plea bargain so as to avoid trial because there is a bigger risk of getting a harsher sentence. With that said, I feel that the defendant John McTiernan is taking a big gamble in not taking his seemingly short sentence for his offense. I was not originally aware of this Jayme Farrell-Ranker, Comm 174 on December 3, 2008 at 4:55 p.m. wrote: I understand that plea bargaining is an essential aspect of the American justice system. However, I don't think that it should be. This case points out one potential issue that can arise with plea bargaining. The idea of plea bargaining completely eliminates the democratic element that many people say is the best part of our criminal justice system. Common citizens are not involved with plea bargaining at all, in fact we only decide 10% of all cases since that is all that actually reach court. In order to eliminate, or at the very least reduce the number of plea bargains, there needs to be a complete restructuring of the American system. Perhaps one idea could involve the methods implemented by Norway. In Norway there is a mixed panel of both professional and lay judges who decide a majority of the cases. But for the more serious offenses a jury of 10 people are summoned to reach a verdict. There are certainly concerns with having a system based on a mixed panel, but at least common citizens would be included in the justice process unlike our current plea bargaining system now. Whitney Hein-Unruh (Com Std 17 on December 2, 2008 at 4:12 p.m. wrote: Though there are certainly times when a defendant may be 'tricked' into accepting a plea bargain or may unknowingly accept parts of a deal that they would not have had they had better legal representation, this case is not one of them. I find it easier to believe that a defendant who is appointed a public defender by the state might be coerced into pleading guilty or not given all of the facts in an effort to avoid a costly and drawn-out trial. However, this case is a different story. As a movie director, the defendant no doubt is of a pretty high socio-economic status and, therefore, most likely found a qualified defense attorney who would have his best interests at heart. Perhaps the lawyer made an error in overlooking the defendant's right to suppress the evidence, but it seems more likely that the defendant became fearful of a harsher sentence should he be found guilty by the jury and caved in to signing a plea agreement. Furthermore, I believe that a defendant should never accept a plea agreement if he or she is 100%, categorically innocent. If the defendant does not have enough faith in the system to trust its ability to find the facts and issue a fair judgment, then there is a problem with our system, with our lawyers, or with both. Kelly Washington, Com 174 on December 2, 2008 at 3:51 a.m. wrote: I do not believe that plea bargains should be withdrawn. It is the attorney's responsibility to make sure that their client is well aware of all stipulations regarding the bargain. I mean, it is exactly that, a bargain. In most cases, the defendant is receiving a less severe sentence than if tried in court. If there is a real issue, it should be taken up with the attorney and not with the courts. Marina on December 2, 2008 at 2:19 a.m. wrote: We have often talked about plea bargaining in class and whether it should even be offered. It can be true that a defendant could plead guilty even if he/she is innocent simply because going to trial could be too big of a risk. In that way, the truth is not determined. However, this is entirely the defendant's choice. Defense lawyers do advise their clients, and sometimes it is not in the defendant's best interest, such as the case described above, but the decision is still ultimately left up to the defendant. I try to think about it by placing myself in the defendant's shoes. I know that if I knew that I were completely 100% not guilty, which is rarely the case, I would make sure to hire the best lawyer to defend my case. The defendant in the case described above seems to have been wealthy and could have afforded to research defense lawyers and hire the best. Also, I would know that, because I am entirely innocent, it would be extremely difficult for the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that I am guilty, especially if I had hired a good lawyer. Therefore, I do not think that an entirely innocent defendant would be likely to accept a plea bargain. If he/she does, I believe that he/she is likely to be guilty on some level. I think there should be a lot of research done before hiring a defense attorney, because he/she will be the one advising you on whether to accept the plea bargain or not. However, ultimately it is the defendant's choice, and it has reduced the number of cases that go to court, which makes it a resourceful part of our trial system. Kristal Bradford on December 2, 2008 at 12:38 a.m. wrote: It's a hard call whether or not a defendant should be able to withdrawl his plea. On the surface, I don't think a plea should be able to be reversed; a defendant entered the plea knowing that he was admitting he was guilty and he committed the crime. Most pleas are taken in order to reduce sentencing and to make a deal, but if lawyers don't inform the defendant of all his rights, then should his plea matter? I think its the lawyers fault and not the fault of the courts. If the lawyer failed to tell his client of his constitutional rights, then the client should take action against the lawyer but the court shouldn't have to pay for the lawyers mistakes. Kelsey Claire, Com 174 on December 1, 2008 at 10:26 p.m. wrote: This reminds me of all the critiques of the plea bargaining process that authors Jonakait, Pizzi, and Dwyer talk about. It seems that Dwyers suggestion, that judges in the same court, but not on the case, should be available to aid in negotiations upon request, may have been helpful in this case. If a judge was present in negotiations, he or she would first of all been able to assist McTiernan in understanding the plea agreement he was agreeing to, and, second, could be a neutral witness in testifying whether or not McTiernan did indeed undterstand what we was getting into. Although plea bargaining is an essential part of our system, allowing it to run smoothly and efficiently, it may need some neutral help. Tatiana Vardanyan on December 1, 2008 at 7:41 p.m. wrote: When a situation occurs that a defendent feels he was not adequately represented by his attorney and given proper advice, then the contract made between the two parties should be void and that individual should be given the oppertunity to be tried once more. Every person deserves to have a fair and speedy trial with full disclosure of all possible resolutions given to them. Although withdrawing from a plea bargain does not guarantee being rid of all the criminal charges, it is certainly worth making the effort to do so. This in turn may create the possibility of being rid of the charges altogether due to the new evidence or information presented in the case. Scott Huminski on December 1, 2008 at 4 p.m. wrote: Different scenario. How about a prosecutor becomes dissatisfied with a plea and move to Vacate the Plea based on involuntariness. The motion is granted and the defendant faces 2 felonies instead of a $100 fine misdemeanor. A pro-prosecution judge grants the motion to vacate plea and after three years of appeals the state supreme court finds double jeopardy. A typical prosecutor, win at all costs, get you pound of flesh, harass and debilitate. -- scott huminski Lillian Smith Comm 174 on December 1, 2008 at 12:31 a.m. wrote: This whole situation seems silly to me--4 months in jail for illegally wiretapping phone lines and lying to the FBI sounds like a pretty sweet deal, and to try to get out of already committing to a guilty plea is ridiculous. It has been shown time and time again that plea bargains offer much better deals and lesser sentences than a jury would offer, so I am curious why this director thought that getting out of the plea was a good idea. Even if what McTiernan is claiming now is true, that he was not provided with sufficient advice from his previous lawyer to be aware of the repercussions for pleading guilty, it doesn't seem like he will have any better moves available. Rachel Franzoia on November 30, 2008 at 10:29 p.m. wrote: Although mistakes may be made in the plea bargaining system, a defendant is no more protected from mistakes occurring in the jury system. Some may argue that the plea bargaining system does not operate correctly, but as many authors, such as Dwyer, argue, our system is simply a reflection of an imperfect society. This is reflected in the plea bargaining system as well as the jury process. Without the option of plea bargaining, out courts would be unable to provide other constitutional rights, such as the right to a speedy trial. Instead, the courts would be overloaded and unable to function properly. We must accept that our criminal trial process does not always function perfectly, but it functions as justly and ably as it can given the circumstances.

About the Author

Dmitry Gorin

Dmitry Gorin is a licensed attorney, who has been involved in criminal trial work and pretrial litigation since 1994. Before becoming partner in Eisner Gorin LLP, Mr. Gorin was a Senior Deputy District Attorney in Los Angeles Courts for more than ten years. As a criminal tri...


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