Coercive Tactics to Get, Enforce Guilty Pleas OKed

Posted February 11, 2011 in Criminal Law by Arthur Buono

The federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is often attacked for its alleged liberal bias. Two recent decisions from the court though have a tough-on-crime tilt. Just yesterday the court said prosecutors can up charges against defendants who won’t testify against others as part of their plea agreement.

  • Defendants who won’t testify against others may face stiffer charges
  • Prosecutors can threaten defendants with longer sentences if they won’t plead
  • High-pressure tactics put a premium on good defense counsel
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Ninth Circuit Taking Prosecution’s Side Lately

Earlier this month the Ninth Circuit also approved tough tactics cops use to get plea bargains from defendants. The same prosecutor had threatened defendants with long sentences if they didn’t plead guilty and cooperate.

Plea bargains are a key part of the criminal justice system. If every case went to trial the courts would become hopelessly clogged. Defendants may receive lighter sentences for less serious charges if they waive their right to trial and plead guilty.

Police have long used aggressive tactics to get confessions and guilty pleas from defendants. One glaring problem with tactics that cross the line is some defendants will confess or plead guilty to crimes they didn’t commit. These rulings dial up the power of prosecutors to coerce pleas from the guilty and the innocent alike, making legal representation even more critical in criminal cases.

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