The sensible sentencing trust wants to greatly curtail if not abolish plea-bargaining. Its petition is motivated by a recent plea bargain where a particularly horrendous child murder was pleaded down to two manslaughter guilty pleas.
I have no knowledge of the details of that case or the plea-bargain other than a male and female caregiver were charged with the brutal murder of a 3-year-old child in their foster care.
My speculation is two guilty pleas to manslaughter is better than one of the accused getting off through a cutthroat defence.
In this defence, the co-accused blame each other for the worst and minimises their own culpability. Sometimes this backfires. The jury convicts both on the evidence of the other but ignores self-serving testimony. But sometimes a cutthroat defence works and a guilty goes free.
A few years ago a father was accused of murdering his 3 month old twins. The chief witness against him was their mother.
By the end of the trial, his defence counsel made the mother look far more guilty than the accused. So much so that the jury returned a not guilty verdict in 10 minutes.One of the two did it, but the jury could not work out which one so there was reasonable doubt.
In the case motivating the petition to abolish plea-bargaining, the accused pleaded down to manslaughter pleas. Both are certain to be punished rather than one perhaps get off.
Plea-bargain are a compromise but they are still justice. The punishment is less but is more certain. Plea-bargaining allows scarce prosecution resources to be better targeted, which means more convictions in those cases that do go to trial.
Following Landes (1971), plea bargaining is a rational response to the costs of trial for prosecutors intent on maximizing the sum of punishments imposed on defendants as a class and for defendants seeking to minimize the expected costs of punishment to them as individuals.
A plea-bargain spares witnesses the ordeal of a trial; justice is speedier, less a severe but more certain as there is no chance of the not guilty verdict at trail. Testifying against an accused found not guilty because a reasonable doubt rather than actual innocence must be disheartening.