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A recent article from TheLedger.com can be read by clicking on this link:
The Article titled Rise in Prosecutors’ Power Leads to Increase in Plea Deals was written By RICHARD A. OPPEL JR. of the THE NEW YORK TIMES and was Published: Monday, September 26, 2011 at 8:48 p.m. I found the following parts of the article the most interesting and I have included them below. Florida is a tough state on crimes, and Polk County is a conservative county that strictly enforces the law and is tough on crime.
GAINESVILLE | After decades of new laws to toughen sentencing for criminals, prosecutors have gained greater leverage to extract guilty pleas from defendants and reduce the number of cases that go to trial, often by using the threat of more serious charges with mandatory sentences or other harsher penalties. Some experts say the process has become coercive in many state and federal jurisdictions, forcing defendants to weigh their options based on the relative risks of facing a judge and jury rather than simple matters of guilt or innocence. In effect, prosecutors are giving defendants more reasons to avoid having their day in court.
One crucial, if unheralded, effect of this shift is coming into sharper view, according to academics who study the issue. Growing prosecutorial power is a significant reason that the percentage of felony cases that go to trial has dropped sharply in many places. Plea bargains have been common for more than a century, but lately they have begun to put the trial system out of business in some courtrooms. By one count, fewer than one in 40 felony cases now makes it to trial, according to data from nine states that have published such records since the 1970s, when the ratio was about one in 12. The decline has been even steeper in federal district courts.
THE ‘TRIAL PENALTY’
In the courtroom and during plea negotiations, the impact of these stricter laws is exerted through what academics call the “trial penalty.” The phrase refers to the fact that the sentences for people who go to trial have grown harsher relative to sentences for those who agree to a plea. In some jurisdictions, this gap has widened so much it has become coercive and is used to punish defendants for exercising their right to trial, some legal experts say.
In Florida, which has greatly toughened sentencing since the 1990s, felony defendants who opt for trial now routinely face the prospect of higher charges that mean prison terms two, five, or even 20 times as long as if they had pleaded guilty. In many cases, the process is reversed, and stiffer charges are dismissed in return for a plea.
But many defendants who opt for trial effectively face more prison time for rejecting a plea than for committing the alleged crime.
The shift has been clearer in federal district courts. After tougher sentencing laws were enacted in the 1980s, the percentage of criminal cases taken to trial fell to less than 3 percent last year, from almost 15 percent, according to data from the State University of New York at Albany’s Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics. The explosion of immigration prosecutions, where trials are rare, skews the numbers, but the trend is evident even when those cases are not included.