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Plea Bargaining and Trial Penalties - When May the State Legitimately Require Criminal Defendants to Surrender Their Trial Rights

NCJ Number
Indiana Law Journal Volume: 55 Issue: 1 Dated: (1979) Pages: 71-89
C H Clarke
Date Published
19 pages
The right of the State to require a defendant to relinquish trial rights through penalties and plea bargaining practices is discussed in relation to recent United States Supreme Court decisions.
The article argues that the Court has authorized the use of trial penalties to erode the trial system of criminal justice without any showing of need, without requiring a rational use of trial penalties, and without any protection of the interests of the defendant. For example, in the 1978 decision in Corbitt v. New Jersey, the Court authorized the use of punishment to induce guilty pleas in a way that would make pleading guilty more attractive than standing trial to all but the worst offenders and compulsive gamblers. Thus, under New Jersey Law, as upheld by the Supreme Court, the prosecutor does not have to bargain but rather can insist upon the defendant's unconditional surrender. The State can always structure its penalties to make pleading guilty preferable to standing trial for a defendant who deserves mercy. Furthermore, this holding contradicts the 1971 holding in Crampton v. Ohio, in which a Law requiring the defendant to choose between mercy and a trial in a capital case was not supported. In addition, the 1968 decision in United States v. Jackson, which addressed the use of the death penalty in kidnapping cases, is plainly inconsistent with Corbitt. The objective of eliminating needless trials cannot be accomplished by using extreme pressure to extract guilty pleas only from defendants in first degree murder or habitual offender cases. Consideration should be given to the possibility of adding to the punishment of defendants who are convicted at trial as an effective alternative to current practices. Case notes are included.