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Plea
Bargain
A plea bargain is simply an agreement between a
prosecutor and a defendant on a predetermined
sentence in exchange for a guilty plea by the
defendant for the crime(s) charged.  A defendant
will, if he or she desires, have the benefit of legal
counsel in the negotiations, and the prosecutor will
normally seek approval for a plea bargain from the
victim(s) and the primary police officer involved in
the case.  However, it is ultimately up to the
prosecutor to proceed with an agreement
regardless of objections from a victim or police
officer.  Once an agreement is reached, the only
hurdle remaining for the prosecutor is securing the
agreement of the judge hearing the case.  While a
judge can deny a plea bargain agreement for any
reason and order the case to trial, the vast majority
of plea bargains are accepted by the court.

When you become a police officer, you’re going to
see a lot of police officers who share the negative
view regarding plea bargaining.  After you’re around
for a while, you’ll also see that those police officers
who complain about plea bargains the most are
those police officers who aren’t that conscientious
when it comes to their own case preparation.  If you
regularly present cases to prosecutors where you
exercise minimal investigative efforts in establishing
the guilt of your suspects, you’ll be regularly
disappointed on the outcomes whether the cases
are plea bargained or they proceed to trial.

There’s a lot more to plea bargaining than the
efficient adjudication of cases.  Nine times out of
ten, you’ll hold the key in ensuring that your plea
bargained case will serve justice as well as the
efficient disposal of your case.  First of all, a
defendant needs an incentive to plead guilty to
charges that will result in a significant length of
prison time.  The definition of incentive in this
regard is easy… overwhelming evidence.

You might ask this question.  “If I’ve developed
overwhelming evidence, why should a prosecutor
accept a 10 year prison term with a plea bargain
when going to trial could result in a sentence double
that amount of time or more?”  The operative word
here is could – not would.  Prosecutors and defense
attorneys alike learn early in their careers that the
only sure outcome of cases is derived from plea
bargaining – not trials before judges and juries.  
It’s a lesson you too will learn early on.

Early in my career, I was dispatched to a hospital
emergency room for a rape report.  As a nurse
escorted me into the examination room, I
immediately observed the first piece of evidence in
this case.  As I was being introduced to the young
woman sitting on the edge of the hospital bed, I
was conducting a close visual examination of the
heavy bruising around the woman’s neck.  The
really cool part, from an evidentiary perspective,
was the four distinct finger impressions on the side
of her neck.

You won’t get the perfect case that often, but they
do come along.  This was one of those cases.  The
24 year old victim was indeed forcibly raped, and a
mountain of evidence would follow to support the
rape charge.

The victim worked in a store located in a shopping
mall where she’d been employed since her
graduation from high school.  Even though she lived
in a neighborhood where girls, as well as boys, were
regularly exposed to crime and drugs, she’d beaten
the odds and remained clear of all the negative
influences of her environment.

The suspect in this case was a security officer who
worked the mall in which the victim’s store was
located.  Over a period of three months the suspect
had established a conversational relationship with
the victim.  The suspect would, periodically, ask the
victim to date; however, she refused each time
since she had a regular boyfriend.  The victim would
describe the suspect as attractive and very
personable.  She was never bothered by the
repeated requests for a date, because the suspect’s
flirtatious banter was always complimentary, and
she never felt pressured in any way.  Finally, there
came a time when the victim and her boyfriend
ended their relationship.  When the suspect
dropped his next request for a date, the victim
thought to herself, “Why not?”
On the evening of the scheduled date, the victim
received a telephone call from the suspect.  The
suspect was very apologetic explaining that he’d
been delayed at work, and he ask if the victim could
meet him at his apartment so that the delay would
not interfere with the evening’s planned activities.  
The victim agreed since she’d known the suspect
for some time, and the suspect’s story sounded
perfectly reasonable.  The victim caught a cab and
she arrived at the address given a short time later.  
When the suspect opened the door, he was
dressed only in a bathrobe.  He quickly explained
that he’d just showered, and he invited the victim
to wait in the living room while he finished dressing.  
Again, while the events so far were not exactly
common for a first date, the victim did not feel
threatened in any way, and she entered the
apartment where she seated herself on the sofa.  

The victim had only been waiting for a few minutes
when the suspect reentered the living room still
wearing only the bathrobe.  Without any warning
the suspect began pushing the victim onto her back
and reaching beneath the victim’s skirt.  When the
victim began resisting the attack, the suspect
grabbed the victim’s throat as he ripped away her
panties with his other hand.  As the victim fought
against losing consciousness, the suspect
completed a textbook act of forcible rape.  After
completing the rape, the suspect unceremoniously
escorted the victim to the door.  At that point the
victim was grateful that she was escaping with her
life.  Suffering considerable pain from the neck and
vaginal injuries she’d sustained, she was able to hail
a cab and head to the hospital.

I worked throughout the night getting my end of
things in order, and very early the next morning I
stood in front of the
suspect’s door armed with an arrest warrant and
search and seizure warrant.  I’ll never forget the
expression on the suspect’s face when he opened
his door dressed only in the same bathrobe
described by the victim.  It’s too bad the victim
couldn’t have been there to see the fear in his face.  
I don’t know which scared him the most… the site
of a uniformed police officer or the large case being
carried by the crime lab technician with the words
“Baltimore Police Crime Lab” prominently displayed.  
As soon as his shock subsided, I couldn’t shut that
guy up.  As I verbally advised him of his Miranda
rights, he never stopped talking.  It was long before
DNA testing, so his endless self incriminating
statements about the sex from the evening before
left no problem in proving that it was the suspect
who’d engaged in intercourse with the victim.

The interior of the suspect’s apartment was exactly
as described by the victim.  While it was already
obvious that the suspect was no gentleman as he
had initially and successfully conned the victim into
believing, he was no housekeeper either.  
The victim’s torn panties, on the floor next to the
sofa, made a great crime scene photograph.  

Weeks later, I met with the Assistant
State’s Attorney (ASA), who was prosecuting the
rape, for a case review.  The ASA was relatively
new, but he’d been around long enough to get his
share of crappy cases.  To say he was pleased with
this case would be an understatement.  He
explained how he’d already been lobbied by the
defendant’s attorney for a plea bargain requesting a
10 year sentence for a guilty plea to the rape.  One
should remember that during this time, a
defendant, with good time and parole, would
typically serve half his prison sentence, so a 10 year
sentence only guaranteed 5 years of actual prison
time.  The ASA had already interviewed the victim.  
That interview, coupled with the overwhelming
physical evidence, in the view of this prosecutor,
didn’t even warrant any consideration of a plea
bargain.

The jury trail lasted for three days, and it was a
prosecution case all the way.  While the defendant’s
attorney did his best to limit the damage, every bit
of physical evidence was admitted.  Every
incriminating statement by the defendant was
admitted, and the victim’s testimony was
unassailable.  The theme of the defense strategy
was that the sex was consensual; however, the
defendant did not testify so that his criminal record
would not be exposed in cross examination.  The
make up of the jury did not seem to favor the
defendant in any way.  The jury was equally split
between male and female.  Most were middle aged
or a little older.  Race was never a factor since the
victim, defendant, and most jurors were of the
same race.
The plea bargain is often portrayed as a negative
aspect of the criminal justice system.  The
explanation for this is simple.  The plea bargaining
process is the only reasonably efficient process
within an inherently inefficient system, and there are
people who will never pass up a chance to attack
any efficient governmental process when the result
does not fit their preconceived outcome.
When the jury was sent into deliberation, everyone
expected a short deliberation.  As the hours
dragged on, and the end of the day grew near, the
ASA became apprehensive.  He knew how juries
work – or better said how twelve reasonably
intelligent people can produce unreasonable
conclusions.  This jury was reasonable in one
respect.  They weren’t going to waste another day
deliberating painfully obvious facts.

“NOT GUILTY.”  You could have heard a pin drop
when the jury foreman announced the not guilty
verdict for the rape.  The silence continued as the
judge asked for the verdict on the lesser charge of
assault.  The foreman answered, “Guilty.”  Following
the usual motions from the defense, the judge
immediately sentenced the defendant to 5 years on
the assault conviction.  The judge then simply
turned toward the jury and stated, “The jury is
dismissed.”  It was interesting that the judge made
no “thank you for your service” type of comment.  
Things were moving at whirlwind speed.  The judge
was already up and heading for his chambers before
the court officer could get “All rise” off his lips.  The
corrections officer was handcuffing the defendant as
the jurors scrambled to pick up their personal
effects and leave the jury box.

The prosecutor was obviously shocked by the
verdict, but his shock didn’t delay him in trapping
that jury before their escape.  The discussion that
followed was interesting.  None of the jurors had
any complaints about the prosecution of the case.  
Every one of them believed every fact presented by
the prosecution.  Every one of them believed every
prosecution witness – including me, the police
officer.  Exasperated, the young prosecutor simply
asked, “Why?”

The jury had a problem with the victim’s decision to
meet the defendant at his apartment.  In their view,
“She should have known better.”  It was just that
simple.  If you’re wondering why the jury convicted
on the assault charge, it turned out that they just
couldn’t get by the photograph of the finger
impressions on the victim’s neck.  Had it not been
for that photograph, the defendant would have
walked free that afternoon.

Not all juries are as brain dead as this jury, but it
does illustrate that taking anything into a court
room is always a gamble for both sides.  Today,
when I hear some pundit bemoan the inadequacies
of plea bargains, I just yawn and think back to my
first real lesson about dismissing a plea bargain just
because you have a strong case.

When you become a police officer, you’ll be doing
yourself a favor if you don’t buy into the popular
belief that prosecutors are somehow letting you
down when they plea bargain your cases.  The fact
is that the stronger you build your cases, the more
often your cases will be plea bargained.  Even if you
go to trial and the jury convicts on everything, you
could get a judge who will impose minimal
sentencing that a plea bargain could have
surpassed.  It’s a crazy world boys and girls, and
the criminal justice system isn’t immune.

While any process can be corrupted, a plea bargain
agreement is a pretty straight forward deal with a
record of facts available for review.  When you see a
plea bargain with a ridiculously light sentence for a
relatively serious crime,
it’s usually a result of the prosecutor’s attempt to
at least salvage a guilty plea from a really weak
case.  In these instances the plea offer has to give
the defendant the incentive to forgo the court room
gamble.

Always remember this one important fact.  The
quality of any plea bargain from the prosecution
perspective will always be dependant on you… the
police officer.
"A plea bargain is simply an agreement
between a prosecutor and a defendant on a
predetermined sentence in exchange for a
guilty plea by the defendant for the crime(s)
charged." ~ Barry M. Baker
Copyright © 2018  Barry M. Baker  
CareerPoliceOfficer.com
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