Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Michael: No More Plea Bargains

There is an initiative application pending that would end all plea bargaining in Arizona's criminal justice system. That would mean instead of just a handful of cases in every 100 going to trial, they would all go to trial. Superficially this might sound good for the law and order voter, but the result would be complete anarchy and the collapse of the criminal justice system as we know it. Pretty much every lawyer in the state would have to be hired just to handle the criminal caseload this would create.

Here is the application:

No More Plea Bargains
February 8, 2005 - July 6, 2006
122,612 signatures required

Joel K. Barr 180015
SMU 1 P.O. Box 4000
Florence, AZ 85232

"The purpose of the NO MORE PLEA BARGAINS initiative is to ensure the guilty do not avoid appropriate mandatory sentences by pleading guilty to lesser crimes; and innocent people are no longer coerced into signing false confessions. False confessions harm the innocent, protect the guilty, insult victims, defeat the purpose of mandatory sentencing, and defraud taxpayers. The text of the NO MORE PLEA BARGAINS initiative is as follows: "Every person accused of violating any law of the State of Arizona shall stand trial on every charge. No information, complaint, or indictment may be withdrawn or dismissed prior to its trial."

Now if Mr. Barr's address looks a little funny, that's because he's in prison in Florence. In fact, he's in the Special Management Unit: the supermax facility. If his application description sounds a little pissed, it's probably because he's speaking from personal experience. I don't have any knowledge of Mr. Barr's case, maybe he really was innocent. I suppose if anyone has an interest in bringing the state's criminal justice system to its knees, it would be Mr. Barr.

I support the Initiative system. I also support the political reinfranchisement of prisoners after their sentence has been served. But I don't support Mr. Barr's plan to kneecap the state from his jail cell. If you ever see a petition for this dog being circulated, which I doubt will ever happen, you might want to make sure you are in a well-lit place and have a tight hold on to your wallet, the circulator may be personally familiar with the digs at the Florence SMU.


At 7:44 PM, Anonymous Desert Rat said...

Good catch on this one.

FYI. Finally got around to blogrolling you tonight. :)

At 1:41 AM, Blogger Steve J. said...


I'm just trying to spread the word about our own demonstration:

10:00 a.m. -- Rally at Catalina Park (4th Ave. & 2nd St.)
11:00 a.m. -- March for Peace down Speedway to…
Noon to 1:00 p.m. -- Picket for one hour at Military Recruiting Offices
on Speedway between Campbell Ave. and Tucson Blvd.

At 11:06 AM, Blogger Joel Gaines said...


I agree with you.

At 7:33 AM, Anonymous gail davis said...

... and you don't think the plea bargaining system that has evolved is somewhat abusive?

At 11:28 AM, Blogger Michael said...

Of course there are abuses. But abolishing plea bargaining doesn't redress those abuses.

If you want to really fix the justice system, ham-fisted approaches won't work. The reforms need to be incremental, experimental in nature, focused on measurement and continual improvement, and driven by the prosecutors, judges, and defendants' lawyers who know what the specific problems are.

Much of what is worst about the system is tied to the 'war on drugs'. The nature of most of these crimes is an organized conspiracy. The incentives to prosecutors very strongly favor abuse of plea bargaining leverage in order to build these cases, there really is no other way to prosecute what is essentially a private maket transaction. You have to get parties to the transaction to roll on one another to make the case. Then there is the fortune in civil forfeitures available directly to legal enforcement agencies as a result of many of these cases. Such institutional incentives don't add up to disinterested and equitable justice being served.

But in the main, no, the plea system is not abusive - it is efficient. Reality in the justice system is not like on TV. There are seldom any who-done-its. Generally the facts are well-known, admitted by all sides, and the only ambiguity is how a jury will jump, how good the defense's story is, and how much time is free on everyone's calendars. Those are the real institutional incentives for most plea bargaining, and it is generally the defendants who benefit the most from the availability of a plea bargain.

At 7:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I watched Joel Barrs case in Apache County and if that is what YOU call justice, then I guess you sold out your morals long ago.
I understand his being "pissed off" and I'll bet If you were locked up for something you didn't do, you'd be a little "pissed off" too.
No one who is honest can look at how Barrs trial went and say there was nothing fishy going on.
After what they did to Joel Barr, I know better than to publicly speak out against the Government (as he did).
Joel Barr ran that "Grapevine" paper in Phx. years ago.

At 5:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Joel Barr is just another trouble making liberal democrat.
I recall the trouble he caused back when he owned that homeless people's newspaper. I love that the State has at last locked him up and that his weak little liberal buddies have abandoned him.
He's just another liberal that came to our Conservative State and tried to turn it into California.
Let Barr's new home be a lesson to the rest of you democrats. You step too far over the line and you'll be in there too.

A devoted Republican member of the Church of the Latter Day Saints and citizen of St. John's Arizona.

At 7:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gulp, I'm not sure that I agree that "the rest of you democrats" need to go to jail for exercising your 1st Amendment rights... but whatever floats your boat LDS!

Without plea agreements, our judicial system would come to a screeching halt! Not only do they save time and man power (hence money!), plea agreements offer less jail time to the offender as long as they're willing to admit to their deed. One can always deny the option. It's an asset to our system!

A proud democrat who still believes in the Bill of Rights!

At 1:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is amazing how people who have had no dealings with the "system" have an opinion. I had never been arrested had no issues, but was arrested on some pretty weak evidence. I was coerced into a plea agreement thinking no jail time, keep my nose clean and clean slate. Instead, I have a judge wanting jail time, he wants to ignore the plea agreement and thinks because I pled guilty I have to live with it. A word of cauion to all, the police lie, the courts lie, and unless you have money, you have no protection.


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