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Plea Bargaining

February 12, 1999 • Volume 9, Issue 6
Does the widespread practice promote justice?
By Kenneth Jost

Introduction

Boxer Mike Tyson was sentenced to a year in jail after pleading no contest to assault charges in December. (Photo Credit: Gary Hershorn, Reuters)
Boxer Mike Tyson was sentenced to a year in jail after pleading no contest to assault charges in December. (Photo Credit: Gary Hershorn, Reuters)

The vast majority of criminal cases in the United States end not in courtroom trials but in negotiated agreements between prosecutors and defense lawyers. Plea bargaining dates to the 1800s and has often been controversial. Law-and-order advocates say the practice lets criminals get lower sentences, while some defense lawyers and civil libertarians say it coerces defendants to give up their legal rights. Most prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges, however, say the practice helps produce justice while reducing strains on the court system. Defense lawyers last year cheered a court ruling that would have barred prosecutors from offering leniency in exchange for a defendant's testimony against accomplices. But prosecutors celebrated last month when the ruling was overturned.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Criminal Sentencing
Nov. 05, 2004  Sentencing Debates
May 10, 2002  Three-Strikes Laws
Feb. 12, 1999  Plea Bargaining
May 26, 1995  Mandatory Sentencing
Jun. 14, 1974  Plea Bargaining
Feb. 13, 1937  Probation, Reformation, and Parole
BROWSE RELATED TOPICS:
Legal Professions and Resources
Sentencing and Corrections
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