Plea-bargaining in capital murder cases: Is it fair to victims?

Plea bargaining in capital murder cases let taxpayers avoid paying millions in court fees. But does it provide victims’ or their relatives’ families justice? 

The entire procedure appears to eschew the kind of justice that is expected in a criminal trial. Even worse is the possibility of a killer receiving a low sentence in return for an admission of guilt. But prosecutors still engage in “let’s make a deal” games with apprehended killers. What motivates this?

Deals for information

Plea bargaining, according to the prosecution, are a useful strategy for getting information from a defendant who might be reluctant to cooperate.

Eric Rudolph, a suspect in the Olympic bombing, entered a guilty plea in April 2005 in order to avoid the death penalty in exchange for revealing the location of his explosives stockpiles. In connection with the 1996 Olympic bombings, which resulted in one woman’s death and more than 100 injuries, Rudolph had been detained. He was also suspected of being involved in three additional explosions, which resulted in the death of a police officer and serious injuries to a nurse. Rudolph’s admission of guilt allowed authorities to discover 250 pounds of explosives that they may not have discovered otherwise.

Victims’ families have conveyed their utter dissatisfaction with plea bargaining.

The families of the known victims were furious but eventually sympathetic when prosecutors promised Green River serial ist Gay Ridgway 48 life sentences without parole in return for the locations of his other victims. Families of the unverified victims would also want closure, thus the petition was intended to assist these families. Prosecutors frequently have to balance the need for justice against the information obtained through the plea. Given the sheer number of unverified victims in Ridgway’s case, knowledge of their whereabouts was essential.

Dealing for a sure thing

Many proponents argue that plea deals guarantee the offender is sent to prison. Trial-related cases frequently end in disappointing verdicts since it is famously difficult to predict jurors. Even with the strongest evidence, a trial does not ensure that the offender will be sentenced to prison.

Where the evidence is poor or there is concern that the jury may acquit, the prosecutor’s best defense is to reach a settlement with the murder suspect.

Dealing to avoid a difficult defendant

Many supporters claim that accepting a plea bargaining ensures the criminal will go to prison. Due to the notoriously challenging nature of jury prediction, trial-related matters usually result in disappointing judgments. Even with the most convincing proof, a trial does not guarantee that the perpetrator will get a jail term.

The prosecutor’s best defense is to make a settlement with the murder suspect when the evidence is weak or there is a chance that the jury may exonerate the accused.

He was insistent that his attorney not raise mental illness as a defense after his plea for self-representation was turned down. His defense team could have been forced to argue Kaczynski’s assertions because there were so few other options, which would have made the trial into a farce.

In the end, he accepted a plea bargain that included four life terms plus thirty years.

Dealing to protect the victim

Additionally, prosecutors contend that plea bargains spare the victim from going on trial. In actuality, the plea bargain protects the victims by sparing them from having to relive the event or face tough questions from the defense, which frequently results in further suffering.

Days after being severely battered by Aaron McKinney and his group of supporters, Matthew Shepard passed away. Information regarding the victim’s bar hopping was also becoming public at the time McKinney’s associates were detained in an effort to explain away how horrible the killing was. The mother of Matthew Shepard accepted an offer of plea bargain in order to spare herself further heartache over her son’s passing.

Dealing to avoid the costs

Plea bargains are encouraged by the legal system because they serve to reduce the cost of a trial. Due to intricate pretrial motions, drawn-out jury selection, and expert witnesses, capital murder cases are very expensive. Appellate costs are comparable.

These fees are then covered by the state (taxpayers), which does so when the accused is impoverished and is required to have a court-appointed lawyer. Almost everyone accused of a capital offense is deemed impoverished and is given legal representation by a public defender or court-appointed attorney since a death sentence defense can cost millions of dollars. State law forces taxpayers to cover the defense costs when the accused is affluent but their resources run out before the case is finished, as was the situation with the Menendez brothers.

On the other hand, it may cost just as much for the prosecution to conduct an investigation, make an arrest, and file charges. The prosecution of Scott Peterson for the killing of his wife, Laci, cost the state of California more than $2.1 million. If he appeals, the projected cost to the taxpayers might be $5 million.

Attorney expenses in death penalty cases are often expected to be between $500,000 and $1 million, with trial expenditures including forensic work, detectives, and expert witness getting twice again. However, it’s challenging to justify a cost-cutting concern when justice is in short supply.

An imperfect solution

Plea bargains are a fallible way to get justice in murder cases. Pleas have frequently been misused. However, in other cases, they have proven crucial in obtaining information from the offender, preventing the accused from taking control of a trial, and saving the victim’s family from a trial that aims to cast doubt on the victim. In the end, the arrangement could be the finest kind of justice if it permanently bans the accused from society.