Criminal Law Case Comment

Incompetent Plea Bargaining and Extrajudicial Reforms

Vol. 126 No. 1 For many years, plea bargaining has been a gray market. Courts are rarely involved, leaving prosecutors unconstrained by judges or juries. Prosecutor’s plea offers largely set sentences, checked only by defense lawyers. In this laissez-faire bargaining system, defense lawyers, not judges or juries, are the primary guarantors of fair bargains and equal treatment for their clients. But the quality of defense lawyering varies widely. Bargaining can be a shadowy process, influenced not only by the strength of the evidence and the seriousness of the crime but also by irrelevant factors such as counsel’s competence, compensation, and zeal. And because bargaining takes place off the record and is conveyed to clients in confidence, it is not easy to verify that defense counsel have represented their clients zealously and effectively.