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Plea bargains: Trial penalty or plea reward?

Man in jail cellPlea bargaining is a common and necessary practice in Ohio and nationwide, according to James P. Tyack of Tyack, Blackmore, Liston & Nigh Co., LPA, in Columbus. While no provision of the Constitution establishes a right to plea bargain, it is the most common resolution in criminal proceedings in Ohio and all jurisdictions nationwide.

In an informal survey of judges, prosecutors and defense lawyers in Columbus, Ohio, the estimates range from 90 percent on the low end to 99.0 percent on the high end.

Nationally, the vast majority of criminal cases are settled this way—the U.S. Supreme Court says 97 percent of federal convictions and 94 percent of state convictions are the result of guilty pleas. Plea deals are a necessary part of the criminal justice system without which the court system would become log jammed completely.

So, is plea bargaining done in so many cases because of the rewards offered to a defendant, or because of the penalty imposed upon a defendant for exercising his or her right to a trial?

According to Tyack, a criminal defendant is usually given the opportunity to reach a “plea bargain” that on many occasions is no bargain at all. In fact, many times the plea is to the charge with some condition of leniency promised or implied from the government.

Certainly, in Ohio and in the federal system, there are many criteria a judge must consider in enforcing a sentence of a defendant who has accepted such a bargain. One of the universal criteria for the court’s consideration at sentencing is whether or not the defendant has “taken responsibility” for his actions. This is all a part of the discussion as to whether or not a defendant’s actions are ever completely voluntary when they have reached the point of being named as a defendant in a criminal proceeding.

To find out more, join Tyack and other criminal law experts at the OSBA CLE seminar Criminal Advocacy on Sept. 18 in Columbus (live or through webcast) or Sept. 25 in Cleveland.

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