by Nicole Flatow
In the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court opinion this term describing the modern criminal justice system as largely a “system of pleas, not a system of trials,” a Colorado federal district court judge has taken a powerful stand against “indiscriminate acceptance” of plea deals in an order disapproving one such agreement.
In a June 28 opinion that a New York Times editorial called “truly startling,” U.S. District Judge John Kane rejected the now-standard practice of approving plea agreements that waive a defendant’s right to appeal, finding that “calm and deliberate review of my decision by the Court of Appeals” is critical to the “interests of justice."
“As a result of a guilty plea, bargained for or otherwise, and the concomitant waiver of the right to trial by jury, a criminal defendant also waives his rights to confront and cross-examine adverse witnesses, to present evidence, to compel the attendance of witnesses, and to require prosecutors to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt,” Kane writes in an analysis that cites heavily to the Supreme Court’s recent opinion n Lafler v. Cooper, which held that defendants have a right to counsel during the plea bargaining stage.
In the Lafler majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy highlighted the stark statistic that 97 percent of federal cases and 94 percent of state cases end in guilty pleas. In Judge Kane’s rejection of one particular plea, he contrasts the contraction of rights for these defendants with the expansion of discretion judges typically give prosecutors and defendants to reach a deal: