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Resolved: plea bargaining is systematicly unjust

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 3/15/2011 Category: Society
Updated: 5 years ago Status: Voting Period
Viewed: 3,810 times Debate No: 15396
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (2)
Votes (1)




For the purpose of this debate, i would like to define the following:
Plea bargaining: :
"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" – as defined by Black's Law legal Dictionary
systematicly unjust: a prosess that is unfair to a system or indevisual

C1: Plea Bargaining goes against Procedural Justice Protocol
Our criminal justice system runs on the procedure of trials. Our Judicial system was designed by our founding fathers and their followers as a somewhat beurocratic system for best determining justice, which is all achieved by trials. When amending the constitution, our founding fathers made it clear that they did not want the principals that make up modern day plea bargaining. These principals are combated in rights such as the;

the right to an impartial jury (6th), the right to cross examination of the state's witnesses (6th), and the right to not be compelled to incriminate one's self (5th). (Which I will get to in my third contention)

Our founding fathers made these amendments because they saw them ss necessary guidelines for how our court functions. Plea bargaining however goes against every one of the amendments I just sited.

The initial purpose of having a trial is to address all possible arguments on either side of a case so that a judge can reach a valid conviction. However, plea bargaining is subject to the presence of an entire court as defined by blacks law. What transpires between the prosecutor and the accused is meant to take place in a court, not under the table. The justice system was put in place to fairly convict criminals, and if our cases begin to transpire without the presence of a court than what's the point of having a court?! Justice is such a specific issue, that we cannot leave the fate of our criminals in the hands of a prosecutor who isn't even in the presence of a court.

C2: Plea Bargaining weakens criminal justice

In many instances, a criminal will except a plea bargain in order to plead guilty to a lesser crime, such as the case of Bhansali vs. New Orleans. In the case, Abhishek Bhansali hit and killed a pedestrian while driving drunk. However, to avoid trial, Bhansali struck a plea bargain and plead guilty to negligent homicide because it is in his best interest for the conviction. By taking the bargain, Bhansali evaded numerous potential charges including Vehicular manslaughter which holds penalties of up to 30 years in prison. (NOLA NEWS) This is only one of many examples of cases were a criminal can evade potential charges thru plea bargaining. This doesn't only undermine justice, but it undermines the safety of society. If a criminal convicts a crime and manages to slip thru the loop holes of plea bargains, they may not serve the amount of prison time that was legally intended. So not only now have we allowed justice to fail, but we also have an unpunished criminal walking the streets free as a bird.
We also have to realize, that in the long run, plea bargaining is a compromise. It is a deal struck between the prosecutor and the defendant in which they each give something up. This is a compromise, and that is not justice works. The Merriam Webster dictionary defines federal justice as:

"the administration of law; especially: the establishment or determination of rights according to the rules of law or equity"
So the moment that a prosecutor neglects a potential criminal charge in exchange for a lesser conviction is the moment they have failed to uphold the justice system. The whole point of convicting a criminal is to punish them for the crimes they have committed, not to compromise crimes here and there. Plea bargaining is an easy way out for criminals, and that is undermining the whole point of our judicial system.
C3: Plea bargaining can potentially convict an innocent person.

In the past, there have been cases of plea bargains known as "Alford Pleas". The name comes from a case know as North Carolina vs. Alford. In this case, Hennery Alford was prosecuted for charges of first degree murder. Eventually, the prosecutor offered Alford a bargain to ether plead innocent, and get the death penalty, or plead guilty and get 30 years in jail. Seeing as to how he didn't have much of a choice, Alford took the bargain and plead guilty. After being convicted for 30 years in prison, Alford addressed multiple courts claiming that he had plead guilty, for the lesser conviction despite his innocence, but the courts ruled that it was his choice to take the bargain. (Webster's New World Law Dictionary)

This is only one example of how a defendant can be forced to plead guilty regardless of his or her innocence. Whether or not Alford was innocent is irrelevant, because the case of North Caroline vs. Alford just shows a scenario where a potentially innocent defendant is scared by the prosecutor into a bargain for pleading guilty. ( the process of being in a court can be very intimidating, especially if you're against a strong prosecutor. And your attorney might not always make your rights crystal clear. Martin Yant, author of presumed guilt, states with regards to afford pleas;

"people who might have been acquitted because of lack of evidence, but also who are in fact truly innocent, will often plead guilty to the charge. Why? In a word, fear." In this scenario, it would not be unusual for the innocent defendant to take the guilty plea. This is not what our justice system is intended to accomplish, this is the opposite of justice, this is undermining our judicial system and this is plea Bargaining.


I'll make 2 arguments in favor of plea bargaining.

1st, plea bargaining is necessary for the function of the court system. As it is, the American penal system is overburdened and understaffed. Plea bargaining remedies this in 3 ways.

a. Plea bargaining allows the trial process to be skipped, saving thousands of dollars. [1]
b. Plea bargaining avoids the need for the prosecution to prepare a case for the trial and for the defense to prepare a case against it which cuts down on the fees and workload of attourneys, important when those attourneys are state apointed.
c. Plea bargaining results in shorter sentences, which saves about $50,000 per person, per year in prison expenses. [2]

2nd, plea bargaining better promotes justice for the defendant for two reasons.
a. A defendant who is willing to admit to the crime he committed deserves a lesser punishment, which plea bargaining allows.
b. If a criminal committed a crime and is willing to confess to it if given a reasonable sentence, forcing a trial on him would give him a chance at going free when he didn't deserve it, which provides no justice at all.

3rd, plea bargaining can be used in exchange for testimony, which allows for other criminals to be captured and tried more effectively.

On my opponent's first contention. (Due process0..

1st, he fails understand the difference between a right and a duty. The bill of rights allows for the right to a fair trial which the defendant is free to exercise as he or she wishes. This can include waiving that right. Foregoing a trial in such a manner is not a violation of the defendant's constitutional rights because the defendant made his own choice to do so.

2nd, cross-apply my 1st point, that plea bargaining reduces the costs of criminal justice. This means that even if the pleaing defendant isn't given the full benefit of a fair trial, at least the costs saved at his expense will allow the criminal justice system to give another criminal the full and impartial hearing he deserves. Money distribution, in this case, is a zero-sum game. Someone has to suffer a loss of rights to a lack of funds. Better the consenting individual than the non-consenting one.

3rd, cross-apply my second point. The jury trial can sometimes be bad because it allows criminals to go free. Plea bargaining prevents this.

On my opponent's second contention (Compromises in justice)

1st, cross-apply my 2nd point. It is particularly applicable here. Those who admit to their crimes deserve less punishment than those who don't, so justice is being served appropriately, and in any case, a guarantee of some punishment is better than the possibility of no punishment at all.

2nd, my 3rd point applies here as well. We overall increase the net amount of justice with plea bargaining, even if it results in slightly lesser punishment for the defendant because it results in more criminal convictions for other people.

3rd, the exact measure of punishment that is deserved is arbitrary to a fault. It is hard to say that the punishment someone would receive without plea bargaining is more just than the one that would be given with plea bargaining, since there is no clear conversion factor from the typeof crime committed to years of incarceration needed for justice.

4th, my opponent's point is supported with a single example which hardly shows a systematic problem.

On the third contention (innocent convictions)...

1st, plea bargaining will NEVER result in a non-consentual innocent conviction because the defendant must agree to the bargain.

2nd, this is not unique to plea bargaining. Juries can convict innocents as well. At least with plea bargaining the wrongful sentence is less severe.

3rd, PRO has no quantification of how often this happens. I suspect that people rarely, if ever, confess to a crime they didn't commit when it looks like they have a good chance with the jury.

4th, this is counterbalanced by the possibility of a wrongful innocent verdict in jury trials. Preventing guilty people from going free is over-all more important than avoiding innocent convictions because freed criminals have the potential to commit more crimes whereas there are no other injustices caused by incarcerating an innocent outside of the initial wrongful conviction.

Debate Round No. 1


I thank my opponent for accepting this debate. I will begin by reinforcing my own points and then refuting my opponents.

C1: Plea Bargaining goes against Procedural Justice Protocol
Many amendments endowed by our bill of rights combat the principals of plea bargaining, such as the right to an impartial jury, cross examination of states witness ext. I am not arguing that these rights deem plea bargaining unconstitutional, I am simply pointing out that our founding fathers established these rights for a reason. They recognized how an idealogic court system would work therefore they established such rights to combat the very principals that make up modern plea bargaining. The fathers of our nation established our courts for a reason and they DID NOT design such a specific system of trials to allow prosecutors to cut corners with plea bargains.

C2: Weakens criminal Justice
To address my opponents rebuttal; even if a criminal who admits to their crimes deserves a lower sentence, we must realize that this concept is not upheld with plea bargaining. When a criminal takes a bargain, it is most certainly a strategy of nickels and dimes. The defendant is pealing guilty to a LESSER crime simply to elude charges to a harsher crime that they did in fact commit. In addition to Bhansali, I personally know multiple individuals who have used this strategy in court. They are not admitting to their crimes, they are simply hiding behind smaller ones, and when this happens, we have unpunished criminals, being let out before their time. Justice must be carried out to its fullest potential in our court system.

C3: Innocent convictions
Alford pleas are a tragic reality in our court system. We have to look at this process through the eyes of someone such as Alford. A difference in the experience and skill between your attorney and the prosecutor can in fact result in a choice of ether death or unjust conviction. But even if your not stuck between such a large rock and hard place, we must recognize that prosecutors are illusionists in the fabrication of words. Even if a defendant is giving up his or her rights in a plea bargain, they might not always be doing this willingly. They could be intimidated by the system or their attorney may not make their rights particularly clear. But a prosecutor will always have the unfair advantage of better speaking skills which grant them the ability to "inform" a defendant of their rights, without actually allowing the defendant to comprehend them. In such instances, the defendant will in fact be compelled to incriminate them self, thus deeming the justice system broken.

In regards to my opponents points,

1a: This argument is irrelevant because we are not disputing the financial convenience of plea bargaining, we are arguing the systematic justification of it.
1b&1c: My opponent stated himself that plea bargaining results in shortened sentences. Although this may result in lower prison and trial expenses, the negation fails to realize that justice must be carried out to its fullest potential, and cutting sentences in this system is cutting corners in justice. Systematic justice should not have a price, and we should NEVER sacrifice this justice, in the name of saving money and prison space.

2a: I have already refuted this point in my case reinforcement above.
2b: Trials are much more fair and bureaucratic then bargains. The presence of an entire court encourages much better justice then bargaining.

3: This argument simply supports my side because in our justice system we must value quality over quantity. Even if we can attain testimony through bargaining, it is at the expense of a lowered sentence (as confirmed by my opponent).
So what if we have two people in jail instead of one? Justice must be carried out to its fullest potential, and even with more criminals in jail, their sentences are much shorter because of the bargain, with means they will be back on the streets all the sooner. The amount of time sentenced to a criminal is determined by legislation, and this legislation was meant to be solid and uncompromised. Justice is absolute, and we must never fail to uphold it to this standard in our justice system.

For these reasons I would like to urge the audience to vote strongly in the affirmation of this resolution.


On my 1st point (Monetary Savings),

My opponent has conceded all 3 reasons (trials, legal fees, & prison) that plea bargaining results in substantial monetary savings each year and has only countered this point by saying that these monetary savings don’t matter because “Systematic justice should not have a price.

Unfortunately, PRO’s dream of a state that metes out “systematic justice” without concern for costs is nothing more than overly zealous idealism. Because we don’t live in a perfect world, justice for one person often comes at the expense of justice for another. The money saved from the many, many cases that are pled can be spent on increased law enforcement, quality legal counsel, and more and better prisons (we’re severely lacking in space as is), and those benefits far outweigh any reduction in sentencing.

On my 2nd point (Justice for the Criminal),

First, I argue that a criminal who is willing to confess to his crime deserves lesser punishment than one who is not. This claim seems to me rather intuitive (and to my opponent, too, apparently, since he has not refuted it).

Against this argument, PRO only claims that “The defendant is pealing guilty to a LESSER crime simply to elude charges to a harsher crime,” but this claim is only substantiated by a single example. PRO places the burden on himself to show that plea bargaining is systematically unjust, and proving that one sort of plea (to a lesser crime) is bad is not sufficient to meet that burden. Many (and I suspect most) plea bargains regard how many years of incarceration the prosecutor will pursue, not which charge of crime will be pursued. And even if this weren’t true, PRO has failed to establish why pleading guilty to a lesser crime is independently bad if it leads to a result that he concedes is a just one (lesser punishment for those who deserve it).

PRO has also failed to adequately address the B sub-point of my point here where I argued that “If a criminal committed a crime and is willing to confess to it if given a reasonable sentence, forcing a trial on him would give him a chance at going free when he didn't deserve it, which provides no justice at all.” Against this, PRO merely asserts that “Trials are much more fair,” which is both irrelevant and false. While trials may be more accurate, this is unimportant to plea bargaining being just, since the criminal always retains the option to go to trial. This means allowing for plea bargaining will never disadvantage the defendant since he can forego the plea and be in the same position that he would have been otherwise. However, what denying plea bargaining does do is force trials upon people who would have otherwise been willing to plead guilty to a lesser sentence, which is far worse since it runs the risk of letting people back out onto the streets with no repercussions whatsoever.

On my 3rd point (pleas in exchange for testimony),

You can tell this point is a good one because it has completely stumped PRO. He makes no substantive response to my argument that “plea bargaining can be used in exchange for testimony, which allows for other criminals to be captured and tried more effectively.” In response, he tries to escape this by arguing that it is not important how many people we catch, but solely how long we imprison them for, asserting (with no discernable warrant) that “in our justice system we must value quality over quantity.” My 4 responses:

-First, this isn’t an argument at all, just an unsubstantiated assertion of PRO’s.

-Second, if anything, the government should be concerned with quantity over quality (a) because the exact “quality” of the punishment is arbitrary and can’t be determined, and (b) because leaving a criminal fully unrepremanded is clearly a worse violation of justice than having two criminals punished slightly less than deserved.

-Third, even if the sentence for the criminal is reduced, the overall net amount of “systematic justice” is greater in a world with plea bargaining since two (or more) criminals are being punished instead of one.

-Fourth, there is no reduction in quality. Even if the one defendant pleads to a lesser sentence, that plea allows law enforcement to bring the full weight of the law down on the other criminals whom the testimony has helped apprehend. In this way, we still see at least one criminal punished to the fullest extent possible.

Now onto PRO’s Case

His Contention 1 of Procedural Protocol has a few gaping holes that have been left un-patched, and in light of these holes, this contention hardly holds water.

While PRO does go on for a bit in his last speech about how “The fathers of our nation established our courts for a reason,” he has not warranted any of these claims nor has he dealt with my multiple responses to them, which were:

1st, the defendant always retains the option to go to trial. This means that plea bargaining, far from denying the defendant rights, provides him with an additional right to escape trial by pleading guilty. This is the distinction between rights and duties that I touched on last round. While a defendant has a right to trial by jury, he has no duty to exercise that right. Thus, it is not a violation of his rights to allow him, of his own volition, to waive his right to trial.

2nd, plea bargaining actively contributes to the sorts of procedural protocol that PRO desires. When funding is low, the costly legal hoops that due process checks force law enforcement to jump through are likely to be the first corners to be cut. The money plea bargaining saves can be put towards more and better legal counsel, trial competency exams, more judges to devote more time to each case, and many other ways to increase the over all fairness of proceedings.

3rd, my point 2B applies here. I’ve argued that, not only is forcing a trial upon defendants unnecessary, but it can also be counter-productive because it can result in false innocent verdicts that could have otherwise been resolved with a plea bargain.

On PRO’s Contention 2

He does respond to 1 of the 4 arguments in an attempt to rebut my claim that the lesser punishment is deserved (and my rejoinder can be found on sub-point B of my 2nd point), but he has left my other 3 arguments unchallenged:

-That using plea bargaining to gain important testimony allows us to convict more criminals, carrying justice to a fuller potential;

-That PRO’s assertions that justice has not been achieved are unverifiable, since the exact amount of deserved punishment is arbitrary and impossible to determine; and,

-That PRO’s argument is suspect anyway as it relies on a single example to prove a “systematic” principle.

On Contention 3

While he does make the important point that “a prosecutor will always have the unfair advantage of better speaking skills” (because, you know, most defense lawyers have a s-s-st-stutter), he fails to apply that to any of my 4 arguments against his contention, which were:

1st, plea bargaining will never result in an injustice done by the state to the offender because the offender agrees to plead guilty of his own free will and retains the option if he chooses to bring the case to trial.

2nd, the problem with false convictions is not one unique to plea bargaining. Juries can falsely convict, too. Pleading at least does something tp help that.

3rd, his “Alford pleas” likely represent very unlikely outliers as it is hard to believe that someone would plead guilty to a crime they didn’t commit when they appear to have a reasonable chance with the jury (nor would their defense lawyer counsel them to).

4th, any false convictions are counterbalanced and outweighed by the many false innocents that jury trials turn up.

Debate Round No. 2


Addison_Barton forfeited this round.


What a shame.
Debate Round No. 3
2 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 2 records.
Posted by Nails 5 years ago
I'm not sure what happened to the formatting of my round 2 post. Somehow all of the spaces have disappeared, even though they appeared when I typed it.
Posted by joshuaXlawyer 5 years ago
are you just gonna forfeit again?
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by XimenBao 5 years ago
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Total points awarded:06 
Reasons for voting decision: Forfeit.