March 8, 2018

The Rise of Plea Bargains and Decline of the Right to Trial

Christopher Wright Durocher

Begin: 0:01

Eli Hager

The Marshall Project
Begin: 4:20

Avis Buchanan

Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia
Begin: 6:43

Melba Pearson

ACLU of Florida
Begin: 7:32

Jenny Roberts

American University Washington College of Law
Begin: 8:09

On March 8, 2018, ACS and the National Bar Association held a panel discussion, hosted by George Washington University Law School. The panel covers the extent to which the ubiquity of plea bargains may exacerbate disparate outcomes for people of color, increase the imbalance in power between prosecutors and defendants, affect criminal discovery obligations, risk wrongful convictions, and even contribute to our mass incarceration crisis.

Today, more than 95 percent of cases that end in a conviction are the result of plea bargains. Frequently, defendants accept plea deals to avoid lengthy prison sentences, unaware of the employment, housing, education, and other ramifications of such pleas. Research has also recently revealed significant racial disparities in the plea-bargaining process, with prosecutors more likely to offer charge reductions to white defendants than black defendants. These findings are particularly troubling because, as Justice Kennedy observed in his opinion for the majority in Missouri v. Fry, plea bargaining “is not some adjunct to the criminal justice system; it is the criminal justice system."