Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Should judges be a part of plea negotiations?

While all of you were having Bachelorette viewing parties last night, old time blog friend Vanessa Blum was covering the debate about judges participating in plea negotiations in this Recorder article.  A snippet from the lengthy interesting piece about the case just heard by the Supremes:

The scope of that prohibition could be clarified by the U.S. Supreme Court in a pending case, U.S. v Davila, which addresses the limits on judicial involvement in plea discussions. The case has largely escaped notice locally despite its possible implications.
To Beeler, the benefits of the conferences are both practical, such as saving court resources, and human.
"It brings the defendant back to the table," she said in an interview. "People make decisions better if they're part of them."
The process can be intense, sometimes requiring all-day sessions and the sort of difficult, honest conversation more commonly associated with a therapist's office than a federal courthouse.
Also, it doesn't always end in a meeting of the minds. By one count, roughly one-third of criminal cases referred for settlement talks since 2011 resulted in plea agreements that obviated the need for trial. An additional 12 percent ended with some but not all defendants pleading guilty, an outcome with less systemic and cost-saving benefits because a jury trial must still be held.
In the state system, judges play a larger role in plea bargaining. However, direct judicial involvement is explicitly banned by federal rules, making criminal settlement conferences sensitive, as well as a rarity nationwide.
The local practice has started to draw more attention from other districts, particularly in the current federal budget crisis, said Northern District federal public defender Steven Kalar.
"Every defender I've spoken to is envious of our system," said Kalar. "I've personally spoken with judges in other districts about how this works and emulating our model. I think we're on the vanguard, but in a good way."
Kalar's counterparts in the U.S. attorney's office are somewhat less enthusiastic. A common gripe from line prosecutors is that participating in criminal settlement conferences is time-consuming and mainly helps defense attorneys to persuade clients that pleading guilty is their best option.
For now, U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag isn't putting a stop to them.

I see these settlement conferences as a good thing and don't really see the downside.  What say you readers?


Rumpole said...

It's a double edged sword and a conundrum that has yet to be resolved in State court. There is now case law that strongly warns judges against sentencing a defendant after trial for more time than a plea offer made before trial, which causes judges to be reluctant to get involved. The chance for a better offer from the court is negated by case law that restricts a judge's hands after trial. There are good arguments for both sides on this issue. There are ways to navigate around this, but it is difficult and filled with rocky shoals.

Simon Bennet Robbins said...

Simon Bennett Robbins Oppenheim & Taft now accepting all referrals from Miami law firms and paying the largest referral fees allowed by law and the Bars. Please visit our website now for partner contact information.