George Soros thinks plea bargain holds key to criminal justice reform
The American criminal justice system has a number of peculiarities that make it unique throughout the world. One of those things is the number of people that the United States incarcerates each year. America has just 5 percent of the world’s total population, but it has over 25 percent of all incarcerated people on the planet. There are many reasons for this outsized incarceration rate, but one of them is the plea bargain.
The plea bargain originated as a way to reduce the massive case loads that were clogging up the United States’ judicial system. Today, over 90 percent of all criminal cases are decided by plea bargain. Without this important tool, which allows judges and prosecutors to efficiently handle the extremely large numbers of cases that come through the U.S. criminal justice system, the system itself would quickly become bogged down with an incredible number of criminal cases, leading to total gridlock of the judicial system, especially within larger American cities, where crime rates tend to be much higher. Read this story at Politico.com about George Soros.
But the plea bargain has a number of serious problems. Most people are familiar with the fact that prosecutors have wide discretion regarding whom they charge with crimes and whom they simply let go. It is also widely understood the prosecutors have great leeway in determining the amount of time that those who do decide to plead guilty through the use of a plea bargain will spend in jail.
What’s far less widely understood is that the plea bargain gives prosecutors more de facto power than judges, juries or anyone else in the criminal justice system. This is an evolved trait, which was never intended in the original conception of the U.S. criminal justice system. Today’s prosecutors, in terms of impact on people’s daily lives, are the most powerful elected officials in the country. The source of this power is the plea bargain. And the real reason the plea-bargain confers so much power on prosecutors is because it gives prosecutors the ability to decide effectively who is guilty and who is innocent.
Through tactics such as what’s referred to as loading, a situation where prosecutors will charge defendants with a host of serious crimes, carrying 20, 30 or 40 years of potential prison time, prosecutors who are determined to send someone to jail can almost always force them into a plea bargain where they will end up doing time.
George Soros has recognized this flawed aspect of the U.S. justice system and as set about to permanently change it. He is doing so by replacing hard line conservative prosecutors with more progressive minded and liberal ones. George Soros established the Open Society Foundations.