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Plea Bargaining: Is it Really a Bargain?

In some circles, plea bargaining is a process that induces too many defendants to plead guilty to avoid what has become known as a trial penalty. It is well known among experienced lawyers that people who go to trial and are found guilty receive a much more severe sentence than they would have had they simply pled guilty and foregone a trial. 

In the case of Orville Lee Woolard, a 60-year-old man, he is now serving a twenty-year prison sentence for using his firearm to issue a warning shot. Believing that his actions were justifiable self-defense, Mr. Woolard rejected a plea bargain that would have given him five years probation. After exercising his constitutional right to trial, in which the court kept out extensive evidence that would have been helpful, Mr. Woolard was convicted of aggravated assault with a firearm, resulting in a minimum mandatory sentence of twenty years.

One study done by Human Rights Watch found that the average federal drug sentence for defendants who went to trail was three times longer than for defendants who pled guilty. Perhaps as a result, 97% of convictions in the federal system are from guilty pleas and 95% in the state system.

The trial penalty can even cause an innocent person to give a false confession. Consider the case of Ryan Banks--a 17-year-old wrongly accused of rape. Instead of facing a 40-year prison sentence he chose to give a false confession. After evidence of his innocence came to light, a California court reversed his conviction and set him free.

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State College, PA 16801

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