The Instigator
jimmye
Con (against)
Losing
19 Points
The Contender
Sieben
Pro (for)
Winning
64 Points

In the United States, plea bargaining undermines the criminal justice system.

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Post Voting Period
The voting period for this debate has ended.
after 13 votes the winner is...
Sieben
Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 12/11/2010 Category: Politics
Updated: 3 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 16,998 times Debate No: 14008
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (6)
Votes (13)

 

jimmye

Con

This debate will be the January 2011 PF topic. Bellow is a highly condensed version of my case (rough draft) and would be willing to swap cases with anyone who emails me. Jimmyjxu -gmail.com

I negate Resolved: In the United States, plea bargaining undermines the criminal justice system.
To facilitate this debate we offer the following definitions:

Plea Bargain as defined by Black's Law: The process whereby the ACCUSED and the PROSECUTOR in a criminal case work out a mutually satisfactory DISPOSITION of the case subject to court approval.

Undermine as defined by Merriam Webster: To weaken or ruin by degrees

The Justice System as defined by Black's Law: A system of courts and other bureaucracies that handle America's criminal legal business, including offices of various state and federal prosecutors and public defenders.

Contention 1: Plea bargaining provides prosecutors and defense attorneys with the flexibility resolve some cases while allocating scarce resources to cases that require them.

Plea bargains have surged because there are more crimes and there are more petty offenses which now are criminalized (offenses such as failing to pay a bus fare, being an unlicensed vendor, petty burglary, shoplifting, etc.). In the United States our judicial system and courts are alloted a limited amount of resources and thus should be spent efficiently and effectively through the prosecution of capital offenses.

Of course, prosecutors are also concerned about their own calendars. Crowded calendars mean that the prosecutor's staff is overworked. Plea bargains tend to lighten everyone's caseload. Because plea bargains are much quicker and require less work than trials, they are also easier on the prosecutor's budget. With today's cutbacks on already slim resources, prosecutors feel they will have additional time and resources for more important cases if they conclude a large number of less serious cases with plea bargains.

Contention 2: Plea bargaining takes away the uncertainty of a criminal trial

Most people are guilty of what they're charged with; however going to trial is a winner takes all bet and plea bargaining thus insures that conviction given scanty evidence.

Contention 3: Plea bargains offer the defendant a freedom of choice.

The defendant can chose to give up his 6th am right in order to gain benefits.

Contention 4: Plea bargains reduce the strain on already overburdened prison systems

For a judge, the primary incentive for accepting a plea bargain is to move along a crowded calendar. Most judges simply do not have time to try every case that comes through the door. Additionally, because jails are overcrowded, judges may face the prospect of having to release convicted people before they complete their sentences. A recent CNN article in 2009 reports Federal judges tentatively ruled that California must reduce the number of inmates in its overcrowded prison system by up to 40 percent to stop a constitutional violation of prisoners' rights. Implementing the court's ruling would result in up to 58,000 prisoners being released despite their sentence, by allowing convicts that have not served their full sentence to reintegrate into society threat to public safety. Judges often reason that using plea bargains to "process out" offenders who are not likely to do much jail time leads to fewer problems with overcrowding

Contention 5: Plea bargains allow the prosecution to obtain otherwise unavailable witness testimony for other cases

Plea bargaining eliminates the threat of major criminals. When plea bargaining occurs in exchange for testimony, it is in order to convict another of a more significant offense. The sentence of a minor criminal is lessened, so that one at a higher level may be convicted. It is obvious that higher level criminals are of greater detriment to society than their lesser counterparts. They cause a greater amount of crime to be perpetrated within a society. Therefore, their conviction is of greater benefit. Because plea bargaining lessens the danger to society, justice is achieved for each individual within that society.
Sieben

Pro

=== Pro Case ===

Framework

1) "Undermine", which Con defines as "To weaken or ruin by degrees". I don't have to prove plea bargaining should be abolished. I just have to prove it is hindering. Maybe an "undermined" system is the best we can do, but its still "undermined".

2) "Criminal Justice System" - USDOJ's mission statement reads: To enforce the law and defend the interests of the United States according to the law; to ensure public safety against threats foreign and domestic; to provide federal leadership in preventing and controlling crime; to seek just punishment for those guilty of unlawful behavior; and to ensure fair and impartial administration of justice for all Americans [2].

The Pro chooses to affirm the value of justice defined as giving each their due. I don't have to prove this is the supreme value, but it must be satisfied because the USDOJ includes it in their mission statement.

Contention 1: Trials enhance justice

a) Trials are a necessary condition for justice

Guilt or innocence is an empirical matter. The goal of trials is to investigate this truth. Two or more lawyers, skilled in law and reasoning, argue before an impartial judge or jury of the accused's peers. They present evidence to build their cases until a verdict is reached. There are many things that can go wrong during trials, but the point is that their purpose is to investigate the guilt of the accused. Solving the whodunit is a necessary prerequisite of Justice.

b) Punishment must be decided in court

If guilt becomes established, the court will then decide upon a sentence or penalty. The court may not always choose correctly, but again, it is a necessary (but insufficient condition) for justice.

Contention 2: Plea Bargaining is unjust

a) Plea Bargaining is Coercive

Dr. Craig Roberts Explains: "Defendants who insist on exercising their constitutional right to a jury trial risk a substantially increased sentence if they are convicted, and this sentencing differential alone is enough to make plea bargaining coercive" (pp. 85-86)." [3]

The worst case scenario is obviously where an innocent person plea bargains because they're intimidated by the trial. This results in prosecution of innocents, which is unjust.

b) Plea Bargaining Replaces Trials

Dr. Craig Roberts Continues: "According to common law, a defendant must be proved guilty; but plea-bargaining enables the State to avoid its burden."

c) Moral Hazard

Plea bargaining is often offered in return for testimony or cooperation in related court cases. DCR continues: "Blackstone condemned this practice in the eighteenth century, noting that such induced confessions cannot be trusted; but prosecutors, anxious at all costs for a high conviction rate, have no use for long-established historical rights."

This setup rewards testimony given against others. In theory, a small bad guy is supposed to testify against a big bad guy and there is supposed to be more justice because you've put the big bad guy away.

However, since the reward is a reduced sentence, the incentive is to give any testimony at all even if it is false. So this is a prisoner's dilemma problem where all parties have an incentive to defect. This results in universal conviction regardless of actual individual guilt or innocence.

=== Con Case ===

Contention 1:

The very best extension he can make is that PB can enhance justice by compromising on some cases and prioritizing others.

First, this admits that PB is intrinsically unjust. So a certain portion of cases will be "ruined", aka "undermined" (according to Con's definition). This contention would seem to concede that PB undermines the criminal justice system.

Second, the only way you can get more justice out of this scenario is if trivial cases are PBed, and non-trivial cases are brought to court. But lawyers and judges have no incentive to prioritize justice. As Con writes, they are mainly "concerned about their own calendars" and caseload. PB would seem to be a shortcut that lawyers take, not to enhance justice, but to make their lives easier.

The utilitarian arguments here can be ignored. Again, maybe an "undermined" system is the best we can do, but its still undermined.

Contention 2:

Con is basically trying to turn the automatic conviction of everyone into an advantage. First, this obviously means innocent people will be punished unjustly. Secondly, it means the guilty get off easier, because you PB for a reduced punishment.

Contention 3:

There is nothing just about avoiding trials. Should we give all accused the right to emigrate to Mexico just because it gives them benefits?

Contention 4:

This is simply a utilitarian argument pointing out that compromise is necessary. Again, this concedes that the criminal justice system is undermined.

Contention 5:

The evidence gained via plea bargaining is similar to the evidence obtained under torture. It is unreliable because the victim has been threatened with harsh punishment. See my contention 2c.

[1] http://en.wiktionary.org...
[2] http://www.justice.gov...
[3] http://mises.org...
Debate Round No. 1
jimmye

Con

I will first refute my opponents case then rebuild my own:
OPPONENTS CASE------------------------------------------------
1.
a. Trials are necessary for justice: Thus, one might be surprised to learn of one of the chief findings of some of the studies that have been conducted on plea bargaining: pleading guilty is associated with higher levels of perceived fairness among defendants than is going to trial, especially in emotional crimes. Further we must note the right to a speedy trial and trial by jury are not inalienable rights, and thus can be conceded for some sort of benefit; in the end prosecutors have enough resources necessary punish capitol crimes, while the defendant has the privilege of choice. Finally it must noted that plea bargains are not mandatory and the defendant can receive a trial if he so wishes.

b. Punishment must be decided in court:
It does not, as you seem to think, grant a criminal a certain sentence after they agree not to go to trial. The imposition of the sentence is up to a judge, who can vary either up or down (depending on the individual circumstances). A
plea bargain only gives a court a recommendation as to a sentence. The judge need not---and very often does not---follow that recommendation. Thus, even if every criminal took a plea bargain, there is no guarantee that the sentences would actually be lower than if they went to trial.

2. Plea Bargaining is unjust

a. Plea Bargaining is Coercive:
Before a judge can accept a plea bargain recommendation, it must be demonstrated that the person voluntarily and knowingly waived their rights and plead guilty to the charge. Texas courts are actually obligated to document proof of this to ensure the waivers on record reflect a voluntary and knowing waiver of rights.

It is demeaning to capable adults to suggest that they are not capable of understanding the consequences of accepting the contract that is plea bargaining, a contract from which the defendant gains considerable benefits. Look at this the other way: of course the defendant has a right to a fair trial, but why can't he give up that right in return for a lesser sentence.

b. Plea Bargaining Replaces Trials:
"Dr. Craig Roberts Continues: "According to common law, a defendant must be proved guilty; but plea-bargaining enables the State to avoid its burden."" WTF?

c. Moral Hazard:
In accepting a plea bargain, they will tell everything that they know. Telling what they don't actually know and lying would be more incriminating against them. Criminals have good reason to fear that any lies or exaggerations they tell will be revealed. They are not the only ones giving testimony and a body of facts does often exist to corroborate with testimonies. Criminals giving testimony in exchange for plea-bargain, therefore, have good reason to fear that any false testimony they give will contradict other testimonies and the facts, that their plea-bargain-exchange might subsequently be invalidated, and that they might be subject to further penalties as a result of their false testimony.

MY CASE-----------------------------------------------------------
1. The capabilities of the judicial system are severely limited. It can't try every case or bring proportional punishment to everyone. The best alternative, therefore, is to attempt to achieve the highest level of social justice. We give plea bargains to misdemeanor in order to have the resources necessary to prosecute rapists to the fullest extent of the law. Now look to the alternative, without plea bargaining it would take years for cases to reach trial which undoubtedly compromises the defendants 6th amendment right to a speedy trial. According to National Crime Research Bureau Study, nearly 2, 20,000 cases took more than 3 years to reach court and about 25,600 exhausted 10 years before they were completed. Also the time between arrest and trials is inordinately long, which affects the conviction rate. If courts had unlimited resources to hold trials, 70 to 80 percent of all cases would still end up with pleas.

2. Innocent getting punished:
There innocent is undoubtedly at risk for incarceration regardless of trial by jury or a plea. My opponent's point is based on a flawed justice system, not on plea bargaining itself, thus should be disregarded. Sometimes, innocent people get sent to prison. In just as many cases, guilty people get set free. Our system is designed such that there are built-in checks and balances, appeals processes, and trials by juries of your peers. We do everything we can to ensure the guilty are sentenced and the innocent are set free.

Guilty get off easier: See above

3. See above

4. Compromise in necessary in our current criminal justice system. In those cases where murderers do get plea bargains, the evidence is scant (or at least at the level where a prosecutor does not feel like he can get a sure conviction) or there are mitigating circumstances. Remember, it is the job of a prosecutor to hand out justice (not just defend society, but defend society and protect society in proportionality to the crime committed in the circumstances in which it was committed), not to get the death penalty in every case. (In fact, I think most people would say that ignoring the facts of a particular crime would actually create an injustice.)

5. See above
Sieben

Pro

=== Pro Case ===

1) Trials enhance justice

a) Trials are a necessary condition for justice

Con points out that PB "is associated with higher levels of perceived fairness among defendants than is going to trial".

The perception of defendants is not a valid measure of justice. If, as Con claims, the majority of defendants are actually guilty, of course they will support PB! It means they can significantly reduce their expected punishment.

Con also says "we must note the right to a speedy trial and trial by jury are not inalienable rights, and thus can be conceded for some sort of benefit". But I'm not arguing constitutional law here. I'm arguing under justice, which is philosophical.

Trials are a necessary condition for justice because trials are a discovery process, where evidence and testimony are weighed to determine the guilt or innocence of the accused. Con's only argument against trials is that they are expensive, but this is a utilitarian argument. Again, maybe an "undermined" system is best, but its still undermined.

b) Punishment must be decided in court

Con thinks that because PB is subject to judicial review, that the punishments can still be just. How can they be just if the judge never investigates the guilt of the accused? They can't.

Con also points out that the sentencing is not necessarily lighter. But the sentencing HAS to be lighter, or else no plaintiff would ever apply for a PB. Except people do apply for PBs and their sentences are empirically lower than otherwise [1].

2) Plea bargaining is unjust

a) PB is coercive

Con writes that "Before a judge can accept a plea bargain recommendation, it must be demonstrated that the person voluntarily and knowingly waived their rights and plead guilty to the charge."

Except no one can ever voluntarily wave their rights because plea bargaining is coercive. Individuals are threatened with larger sentences should they go to trial. This is a metaphorical gun-to-the-head.

Con also writes that it is "demeaning" to suggest that adults don't understand the consequences of plea bargaining. I've never argued this... its a straw man.

Con's concludes with his staple argument that people have a right to trial, but should be allowed to waive that right for a lesser sentence. This is a UTILITARIAN argument. Justice is concerned with giving each their due. If someone is innocent, justice requires that they be FOUND innocent and vice versa.

b) PB replaces trials

Plea bargaining does replace trials... Since trials are a necessary condition for justice, PB must undermine justice.

c) Moral Hazard

Con says people won't lie just to reduce their sentence because they'll get caught. They can only be caught in the face of contradicting evidence. But from hypothesis, crucial testimony is crucial BECAUSE there is no other evidence. So there is no way to catch liars in these big crime boss cases that proponents of PB romanticize.

Additionally, the whole point of PB is that you never go to trial, so you would never investigate the relevant evidence that would show someone is giving false testimony.

Furthermore, people aren't likely to lie about things that are easily falsifiable by evidence. They'll just lie about something else. Something they saw someone doing, or a phone call they had, etc.

Even if you don't buy any of that, it still makes testimony suspect because it is obtained under pressure. This creates a moral hazard for the legal system, because prosecutors can bully defendants into giving false testimony. Anti-truth = anti-justice

=== Con Case ==

1)

Con goes on to apologize for the system. There's no need! Maybe this is the best possible system. But utilitarian arguments are totally irrelevant to this debate. All I have to do is prove that justice is undermined by PB. Maybe justice isn't as important as some other value. /shrug

2)

Con points out that innocent people might still go to jail even if they have a trial. This is unfortunate, and why I have been saying all along that trials are a necessary, but insufficient condition for justice.

No matter how bad trials actually are, PB is still an automatic prosecution mechanism that risks punishing innocent people. So even if trials are bad, PB is always less just because it has a 100% conviction rate.

PB also allows criminals to get off with easier sentencing, which is unjust.

3)

Con says "see above". I don't see where he's talking about. The point he was trying to make was that it makes life better for plaintiffs. Obviously this is another utilitarian argument, so you can ignore it.

4)

Con says PB might be helpful in cases where this is insufficient evidence to convict murderers. But if there isn't enough evidence, it makes more sense to just go to trial and be found innocent...

Con's reasoning is question begging too. He assumes that he can know someone is a murderer even though he's theorizing that there isn't enough evidence to know that in the first place.

Con concludes that society might be kept safer if we use PB to run through a ton of cases. This is another utilitarian argument, so you can ignore it too.

5)

The testimony gleaned via PB is done so under pressure. As such, its reliability is compromised.

=== Conclusion ===

Con has never attacked my value of justice, nor my framework. All I have to do is prove that justice is UNDERMINED by plea bargaining. His practical arguments are utilitarian, and don't matter.

The debate is not "we ought to do away with PB". The debate is over whether PB is consistent with justice.

PB replaces formal trials with an automatic conviction, usually at reduced sentence. Guilt is never established. The truly guilty get off with a lesser punishment, while the truly innocent are unjustly harmed. It also creates a systemic moral hazard because testimony gained via PB is coerced, and therefore unreliable. This false evidence leads to less justice in other cases.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org...
Debate Round No. 2
jimmye

Con

jimmye forfeited this round.
Sieben

Pro

Well, I hope I've given you a lot of arguments to use against your fellows. Leach leach leach leach. Just remember when you place 3rd at district, that you're winning because everyone else is more pathetic than you, not because you're actually good at this.
Debate Round No. 3
6 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 6 records.
Posted by nephilim 3 years ago
nephilim
How very polite! The incite of stating a manner of fact before it's argument is concluded honest or not. Would they say irrelevant or relevant? The factuality in a sense is ancient. One states an opinion which is weighed by an official of court. Amusingly enough a plea bargain is a case settled in counsel where there is no eminence for court. The argument presumed here is to my estimation preliminary by incites of guilt before "truth" is understood by a judge or jury and so forth there is no case due probability to assume a position in a situation where the extent of the action committed does not require any form of punishment due a granted Lordship which no longer carries any weight what so ever in a republican or democratic United States of America. I would like to be Lord of Internet. (No one weighs information on internet weather internet is a state or not).
Posted by jimmye 3 years ago
jimmye
Alrite, sounds good
Posted by Sieben 3 years ago
Sieben
Cool. I'll be working on a response now. Expect a post midday tomorrow. I have exams mo and tu so take your time.
Posted by jimmye 3 years ago
jimmye
Fine
Posted by Sieben 3 years ago
Sieben
Seriously. Most people can't be posting every day. Change the round length to 3 days.
Posted by Sieben 3 years ago
Sieben
Change voting period to something limited, like 2 months.

Also change response time to 3 days. I have exams.

And I'll accept. I'm an old LDer.
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