Plea Bargaining in Victimless Crime Cases
What do you think of when you hear the term “plea bargain?” A backroom deal cut by the prosecutor? A criminal defendant getting a break in exchange for information on another case or for a guilty plea on reduced charges?
In a plea bargain, the defendant gives up an important constitutional right to trial and hands over total control to the prosecutor. It is a completely arbitrary process, absent of transparency. Basically, prosecutors use plea bargains to secure guilty pleas from criminal defendants. This is where “pile on” charges or overcharging comes into play (additional charges used as leverage to get a defendant to agree to a guilty plea to at least one charge).
Trying cases is time consuming. Without the plea bargain process, prosecutors would have to conduct trials in every case they prosecute, and they would have the burden of proving every element of each offense beyond a reasonable doubt before a judge or jury.
At nevertakeaplea.org, defendants in victimless crime cases are encouraged to consider exercising their constitutional right to a trial. If more victimless crime defendants took this approach, the system would bog down and, one would hope, force prosecutors to focus on violent crimes with victims.