Are plea deals unjust? | The Tylt

Are plea deals unjust?

In early December, the public learned disgraced former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn agreed to cooperate with investigator Robert Mueller and, in exchange for the information he provided, could face little to no jail time for the crimes he pleaded guilty to in 2017. In court filings, Mueller's team claimed Flynn has been so helpful that he deserved a lighter sentence. But are sweetheart deals like this unfair? Many activists say lower-level criminals are railroaded using the same types of plea deals with which Flynn is being rewarded. What do you think?

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CNBC describes Mueller's deal with Flynn:

In a heavily redacted court filing ahead of Michael Flynn’s Dec. 18 sentencing, Mueller on Tuesday recommended a light sentence — possibly no incarceration — for President Donald Trump’s former aide.
Mueller said in the sentencing memo that Flynn, 60, had provided “firsthand insight” over the course of 19 interviews with special counsel investigators and Justice Department attorneys, and that his benefits to their work “may not be fully realized” until the investigations are finished.
...“Flynn could have been subjected to additional charges that would have considerably raised that calculus,” former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance said Wednesday on MSNBC. But the fact that his plea continued to include just one charge of lying to the government “tells me that he really brought something valuable to the table,” Vance added.
Lying to the FBI carries a possible maximum sentence of five years in prison. But Flynn’s plea agreement with Mueller says he is eligible for a sentence ranging from zero to six months behind bars.

Experts believe Mueller may have used the promise of a lighter sentence to entice Flynn into being more forthcoming with any information he may have. 

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Yet, the criminal justice system works very differently for people accused of more common, low-level crimes. In a piece about the book "Locked In" by John F. Pfaff, a law professor at Fordham and author, the New Yorker explained how plea deals are not used as bargaining tools to prevent more serious crimes. When dealing with common crimes, plea deals are used more frequently to force accused people through the system as quickly as possible, often to their great detriment.

“There is basically no limit to how prosecutors can use the charges available to them to threaten defendants,” Pfaff observes. That’s why mandatory-sentencing rules can affect the justice system even if the mandatory minimums are relatively rarely enforced. A defendant, forced to choose between a thirty-year sentence if convicted of using a gun in a crime and pleading to a lesser drug offense, is bound to cop to the latter. Some ninety-five per cent of criminal cases in the U.S. are decided by plea bargains—the risk of being convicted of a more serious offense and getting a much longer sentence is a formidable incentive—and so prosecutors can determine another man’s crime and punishment while scarcely setting foot in a courtroom. “Nearly everyone in prison ended up there by signing a piece of paper in a dingy conference room in a county office building,” Pfaff writes.
...Pfaff cites the journalist Amy Bach, who once watched an overburdened public defender “plead out” forty-eight clients in a row in a single courtroom.
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According to Lawfare, Michael Flynn's potential crimes and wrongdoings are numerous.

Reports of Flynn’s bizarre behavior across a wide spectrum of areas began trickling out even before his tenure as national security adviser ended after only 24 days. These behaviors raised a raft of substantial criminal law questions that have been a matter of open speculation and reporting for months. His problems include, among other things, an alleged kidnapping plot, a plan to build nuclear power plants all over the Middle East, alleged violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) involving at least two different countries, and apparent false statements to the FBI.

Because of the sheer amount of crimes Flynn could be accused of, experts believe it makes sense that he would agree to cooperate fully with Mueller in hopes of reducing his jail time. The leniency with which Mueller is agreeing to treat Flynn, however, is shocking to experts.

The surprising thing about the plea agreement and the stipulated facts underlying it is how narrow they are. There’s no whiff of the alleged Fethullah Gulen kidnapping talks. Flynn has escaped FARA and influence-peddling charges. And he has been allowed to plead to a single count of lying to the FBI. The factual stipulation is also narrow. It involves lies to the FBI on two broad matters and lies on Flynn’s belated FARA filings on another issue. If a tenth of the allegations against Flynn are true and provable, he has gotten a very good deal from Mueller.
...It reflects something else too: that Flynn is prepared to give Mueller substantial assistance in his investigation and that Mueller wants the assistance Flynn can provide. We are not going to speculate about what that assistance might be. But prosecutors do not give generous deals in major public integrity cases to big-fish defendants without good reason—and in normal circumstances, the national security adviser to the president is a very big fish for a prosecutor. The good reason in this case necessarily involves the testimony Flynn has proffered to the special counsel’s staff. The information in that proffer is not in any of the documents released Friday, and it may not even be related to the information in those documents. Prosecutors tend to trade up. That is, for Mueller to give Flynn a deal of this sort, the prosecutor must believe he is building a case against a bigger fish still.

Mueller has obviously decided the information Flynn can provide is far more important than punishing him with jail time.

#PleaBargainsUnfair

Our criminal justice system is supposed to be blind and unbiased. The differences between the way prosecutors are using plea deals in the Flynn case and the way prosecutors use plea deals in lower courts, shows there are basically two different justice systems. Per the Atlantic:

Most people adjudicated in the criminal-justice system today waive the right to a trial and the host of protections that go along with one, including the right to appeal. Instead, they plead guilty. The vast majority of felony convictions are now the result of plea bargains—some 94 percent at the state level, and some 97 percent at the federal level. Estimates for misdemeanor convictions run even higher. These are astonishing statistics, and they reveal a stark new truth about the American criminal-justice system: Very few cases go to trial. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy acknowledged this reality in 2012, writing for the majority in Missouri v. Frye, a case that helped establish the right to competent counsel for defendants who are offered a plea bargain. Quoting a law-review article, Kennedy wrote, “ ‘Horse trading [between prosecutor and defense counsel] determines who goes to jail and for how long. That is what plea bargaining is. It is not some adjunct to the criminal justice system; it is the criminal justice system.’ ”
...As prosecutors have accumulated power in recent decades, judges and public defenders have lost it. To induce defendants to plead, prosecutors often threaten “the trial penalty”: They make it known that defendants will face more-serious charges and harsher sentences if they take their case to court and are convicted. About 80 percent of defendants are eligible for court-appointed attorneys, including overworked public defenders who don’t have the time or resources to even consider bringing more than a tiny fraction of these cases to trial. The result, one frustrated Missouri public defender complained a decade ago, is a style of defense that is nothing more than “meet ’em and greet ’em and plead ’em.”
FINAL RESULTS
Politics
Are plea deals unjust?
#PleaBargainsUnfair
A festive crown for the winner
#BargainsAreTools