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Post Written by Charles Horikami – “To Plea, or not to Plea”

Charles Horikami

My name is Charles Horikami, and I am a first-year law student at Regent University School of Law. It has been quite the journey to get here and would never have been possible without the support of my wife and children.

The school’s support for my family and I as well as the respect that professor’s have in understanding the time needed to take care of them has made this experience second to none.

This semester, I have the privilege of being a student staff member for the Center for Global Justice for IJM-Uganda, and later this summer in working for Justice Chibita on the Uganda Supreme Court.

The Assignment

This semester, I am working in the Center for Global Justice for the International Justice Mission (IJM), Uganda. IJM is an international NGO focused on human rights and law enforcement, specifically specializing in combatting sex trafficking and related crimes. IJM-Uganda has asked us to research the history of plea bargaining and whether it has been successful in deterring crimes related to intimate partner violence and sexual violence against children. I have been asked to specifically look at the United States.

The Work

Plea bargaining has existed for centuries but has only come to be regularly used after the Civil War. While it has existed plea bargaining has also been routinely rejected by courts under the common law for much of this same time only rarely being allowed to exist. There are several recorded instances where judges, when presented with an accused who wished to plead guilty, told the person accused to reconsider their admittance; this was often followed by a day or two of reincarceration so they could receive additional counsel and think on their act of confessing before admitting the confession to the record. The concern was that plea’s were coerced and that an administration of justice would be unjustly given.

Around the 1920s plea bargaining began to become commonplace. While it had been steadily increasing in existence and acceptance, it was the prohibition that made plea bargaining more commonplace. The idea began to be that if we lower a nobody’s sentence in exchange for some information on a somebody, we can then see a greater degree of justice; at that time, arresting a drunk person who pled guilty could lead to his supplier and help bring down criminal organizations.

The process of plea bargaining became constitutional in 1970 under Brady v. United States when the U.S. Supreme Court said, “It may be that Brady, faced with a strong case against him and recognizing that his chances for acquittal were slight, preferred to plead guilty and thus limit the penalty to life imprisonment rather than to elect a jury trial which could result in a death penalty.” As you can see by this reasoning, the plea-bargaining process had already been changing from bringing justice to bigger fish to avoiding the possibility of a harsher sentence.

This has led to debate about whether plea bargains are effective. Effective at what? Well, that is part of the question. Some argue that plea bargains should lessen the burden of trials on courts, others that it guarantees some time served rather than risk a trial allowing a criminal to go free. These goals have been criticized as actually encouraging crime by allowing criminals to know ahead of time that if they plead guilty, they will just get a slap on the wrist rather than a full twenty to life sentence. Another criticism is that charges are materially changed and no longer reflect what occurred; rather “facts” are changed and accepted to meet a new charge that makes no sense and justice is not measured.

Whatever the actual case may be, stories abound of accused rapists, thieves, and murderers getting off with less than they deserve. Victims feel that justice has been avoided and the legal process has become tainted and corrupted. Is it effective? We don’t know, studies are few and far between, either they have no controls to compare their data to and are filled with heart rending stories to plead their point with no actual data, or they narrowly look at one issue, in one location, and don’t follow up over time to see actual future impacts that resulted from the plea bargaining. What we can say is this; there is more work to be done. That is my plea.

This post was written by a Center for Global Justice Student Staff member. The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect those of Regent University, Regent Law School, or the Center for Global Justice.