– Why are criminal defendants offered plea deals, in cases where there is a mountain of physical evidence?

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Been listening to a bunch of true crime podcasts lately. More often than not, the person accused of a horrific crime, is offered some sort of reduced sentence, in exchange for a guilty plea. I know part of the reason is to spare the victim(s) and their families the trauma of going through a trial. It just seems pointless when they have so much evidence to convict them and give them a harsher sentence, especially considering how many people rarely serve the full sentence. I get it but I also don’t.

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30 Answers

Anonymous 0 Comments

Because a trial is a very long process. Besides it is better to get a plea deal than going to trial. In the trial, evidence can be dismissed for any reason, the jury can be swayed, and the emotional toll on the victim’s family.

Anonymous 0 Comments

The criminal justice system (in the US) is a funnel – capacity declines as you get further into the system.

The system cannot afford to put every single case on trial – afford either in time or money.

This leads to something known colloquially as the “trial tax.” If you are guilty, and you force a trial, and you are found guilty, you will generally have a more harsh sentence than had you accepted the plea originally.

Additionally, you are generally charged with the most serious and the highest number of charges in order to get you to WANT to plea down. Generally by the time you go for trial, it’s not for everything you were initially charged with. But by throwing everything at you during the charging phase, they can get you to take a plea deal.

95% of guilty cases in the US are settled through plea deals.

EDIT 1: Yep, it is a problem that innocent people accept plea deals. However, that has more to do with the problems with the public defender system in most large jurisdictions. Most PDs are overworked, with caseloads double or triple what they should be. Thus, you have innocent people who don’t understand how the system works, with legally-acceptable-but-less-than-adequate-defense-counsel and there you go.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Trials are very long and very expensive for all parties involved, including the state. There is always a back log of cases to be reviewed and tried. If every case went to trial, the court system would grind to an absolute halt, and it already moves slow in a lot of cases.

Another major factor is that you only need one juror to not be on your side. They can have a bias, dislike the prosecution, may want to just watch the world burn or anything. If you get just one person like that, the whole case could be lost.

Getting a plea deal then generally works for both sides. The defendant usually gets a break on their punishment, plus saves time and money on a case that they’ll never get back. The prosecution gets to have the defendant punished in some way, getting some kind of relief for the victim(s) and saving time and money.

Anonymous 0 Comments

> I know part of the reason is to spare the victim(s) and their families the trauma of going through a trial

That’s not really a reason, or at least not the main one. The main reason is that a trial, even a slam dunk conviction, still takes a lot of work and a ton of time. The courts can’t handle it and the prosecutors can’t handle the many cases they have going to trial all the time. Most prosecutors are happy to have defendants take a plea and get a guaranteed sentence instead of doing all that work for the possibility of an acquittal even on case that seems really good. Don’t forget, Marcia Clark though her case against OJ was a slam dunk and look how that turned out. At the end of the day, the prosecutor doesn’t really care about the difference between the sentence at trial vs the sentence on the plea because the defendant is still convicted, and being sentenced to *something*.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Prosecutors and law enforcement, at least at the local/state level, are only interested in stats. A plea is a win. They don’t care if they have the right person as long as they have A person.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Another important factor that other commenters have touched on but not dived into: usually, in the US at least, the decision at a trial is made by a jury. To pick a jury, the court gets a few dozen to maybe a hundred people in a room, and then the court and attorneys get rid of the ones who they don’t think can be fair or follow the law. The selection process is no good if they answer the questions falsely – this happens. You end up with (usually) 12 people to be the jury.

It is very, very hard to predict what 12 people in a room are going to do. I have seen juries ignore incontrovertible evidence. I have seen them convict on just about nothing. Juries frequently reach contradictory decisions, for instance saying a person is guilty of X but not guilty of Y, when it’s impossible to do X without doing Y. And if they make a wrong decision in a criminal trial, it is usually impossible to overturn, or even figure out why they made the decision they did.

And worst of all is when they deliberate for hours and days and can’t come to a decision. You’ve put victims and witnesses and a defendant through a trial, maybe a super emotional one, maybe asking a mother to tell the jury the last thing her son said to her on the phone before he was murdered, or subjecting a sexual assault victim to cross-examination about whether she made the whole thing up, or presenting a meticulous case that could put the defendant in jail for life when he has in fact been falsely accused… and then after days of waiting the jury can’t decide and you’re back to square one. And, if there’s a false acquittal in a violent crime or assault case – which is the side we want to err on – the victim will have to live the rest of their lives with the fact that 12 people listened to their story and didn’t believe them. The murderer or rapist will be able to say, for the rest of their lives, that they were falsely accused. It happens, even in very strong cases.

Trial can be traumatizing. At the end of the day, a good prosecutor will explain this to a victim. And, in all but the rarest of circumstances, a good prosecutor will give the victim a choice not to go to trial, and will seek a plea when that victim doesn’t want to relive the worst day of their life in front of 12 strangers and a bunch of journalists, even if the case is extremely strong.

Not saying that’s the reason behind anywhere close to the majority of plea bargains – but it’s a not-uncommon factor.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Conviction is never a given.

As an example

From Palm Beach Post’s massive reporting on the history of the Opioid Crisis,

Twin Brothers **Chris and Jeffrey George** made $43 million from 2007-2009 from the illicit sale of oxycodone and other drugs out of their 4 South Florida pain clinics prescribing almost 20 million pills in less than two years.

* The clinic’s top performer was a young doctor named **Cynthia Cadet** became the No. 1 writer of scrips for oxycodone pills in the country — some days seeing more than 70 patients.

Cadet stood trial for distributing narcotics for non-medical reasons and a resultant **seven deaths**. In fact, the ninvestigation found Cadet alone had served **51 patients whose deaths** could be linked to prescription pills she had prescribed.

* Cadet’s defense: How could she possibly know if patients were lying about their pain levels?

After a 31-day trial and deliberating for roughly 20 hours over three days, the 12-person jury found her not guilty of Murder charges.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Would you rather I give you five dollars for certain or ten dollars 50:50 might win might lose

Anonymous 0 Comments

Because trials are never a 100% sure thing. It’s better to get someone to serve some time than have them get off on a technicality. That bulletproof evidence can be tossed out by a judge for any one of a million reasons if that happens then your case falls apart.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Appellate public defender here. It’s pretty much about efficiency and a guaranteed conviction. As others have said, trials are long and expensive. Plus, when a person pleads guilty, often they have virtually no ability to appeal, and appeals are also long and expensive. Finally, witnesses, juries, and sometimes even judges can be unpredictable.

Keep in mind that even when there’s a mountain of physical evidence, that evidence hasn’t always been obtained legally (e.g., no search warrant or warrant exception, or the person’s other constitutional rights have been violated). If that’s the case, what looks like a slam-dunk can fall apart very quickly if a trial judge suppresses some or all of that evidence.