Guest Editorial by Louis Perry
In certain areas of Bonner County residents are contending with a high crime rate and repeated victimization, and although law enforcement makes many solid arrests, the offenders are soon back out on the street committing more crimes. This is the hallmark of a failed system.
Today, one is no longer prosecuted for the crimes committed but rather enters into a “let’s make a deal” scenario with the prosecuting attorney and their own counsel. This often leaves judges out of the loop with binding plea offers until after a deal has been reached, insuring light sentences for serious crimes.
Defense attorneys no longer represent their clients before a jury but rather act as brokers in deals reached for a guilty or nolo contendere plea in order to collect their fees and bolster their reputations. Prosecutors boast high conviction rates at election times based upon backroom deals which often bear no resemblance to the crimes actually committed. Perpetrators are unleashed back into society after serving little or no time for often quite serious offenses.
It is government’s most solemn duty and obligation to protect the citizenry. Our judges and states attorneys are voted into office to fulfill this obligation. Yet crimes such as attempted murder are reduced to simple assaults or battery; grand theft is reduced to misdemeanor status; rape of a child is reduced to unlawful sexual intercourse. The list goes on and on with only the imagination of the involved deal-making attorneys limiting the outcome.
Judges and prosecutors argue that they don’t have the time or resources to prosecute all crime that comes before the court and that plea-bargaining is a necessary evil. They emphasize the costs involved with holding criminals accountable for their actions. I contend that the cost to society is far greater. For justice to work, punishment must be swift and sure. A person with criminal intent must be assured that if they choose to break the law and are caught they will pay the full price for their wrongdoing. Without such assurances, criminals will continue to prosper from their offenses and society will ultimately give way to its outlaws.
The framers of our Constitution and Bill of Rights took great care in protecting the rights of the accused by providing for a speedy public trial in the jurisdiction in which the offense was committed. The defendant has the right to be informed of the charges against him or her and the right against self-incrimination. Defendants are guaranteed an impartial jury; the assistance of an attorney; the rights to confront their accuser and to cross examine all witnesses against them as well as call for witnesses of their own.
It has been reported that less than 10 percent of criminal offenses committed within our local jurisdictions are presented to a jury for consideration. If true, then over 90 percent of criminal cases are not tried before a jury, with society and the accused being deprived of constitutional guarantees against self-incrimination. Guilty pleas to crimes not actually committed but conjured through plea agreements damage society and create a revolving door for outlaws within our communities. One is left wondering just how many laws must be broken and how many citizens must be victimized before justice is administered and criminals are held accountable for their choices and actions. An article by the Bureau of Justice Assistance; U.S. Department of Justice paints an even gloomier picture of our justice system wherein the overwhelming majority (90 to 95 percent) of cases result in plea bargaining.
Plea bargains are also a demoralizing factor among the fine men and women in our law enforcement community who dedicate themselves to protecting the public and apprehending violators of our laws.
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