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Frontline: The Plea
Frontline The Plea
Actor: Will Lyman
Director: Ofra Bikel
Genres: Television, Documentary
NR     2004     1hr 30min


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Movie Details

Actor: Will Lyman
Director: Ofra Bikel
Genres: Television, Documentary
Sub-Genres: Television, Documentary
Studio: Pbs (Direct)
Format: DVD - Color
DVD Release Date: 06/17/2004
Release Year: 2004
Run Time: 1hr 30min
Screens: Color
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 1
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English

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Movie Reviews

Beware of the system.
K.C. | San Diego, California | 04/19/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Although I believe this video actually understates the problem, I gave it 5 stars because it sheds light on the fact that our criminal justice system is set up to virtually force a defendant to plead guilty even if he is innocent.

Most people believe that our ciminal justice system, which allows plea bargining, works to the benefit of guilty defendants by allowing them to plead guilty to lesser charges with a reduced sentence. However, what most people are not aware of is the fact that the criminal justice system enables prosecutors to "stack" multiple charges against a defendant thereby threatening him with a draconian prison sentence if he goes to trial and is convicted while, simultaneously, offering to allow the defendant to plead guilty to a lesser charge. Thus, a defendant is typically confronted with the following type of Hobson's choice; He can plead not guilty and go to trial. If convicted, he faces a sentence of 49 years. Alternatively, he can plead guilty and receive a sentence of 7 to 15 years, with the possibility of parole after 7 years.

Faced with this type of choice, even an innocent person is almost forced to accept the deal of pleading guilty especially when he/she is being represented by a public defender who is encouraging him to take the deal because HIS case load is too heavy. Making matters worse is the fact that in most states, the prospect of parole after serving the minimum sentence is, in most cases, illusory. If the charge is of a serious nature, parole is not granted or denied based on how well the person behaved in prison. It is routinely denied because of the seriousness of the crime. Thus, a person pleads guilty expecting to serve a hypothetical 7 years and only later finds out that he must serve 15 years.

This type of problem also extends to offers of probation. When a prosecutor has a case with very weak evidence, he offers a defendant probation in exchange for a guilty plea. Typically, the defendant must plead guilty to a charge that is more serious than any charge he would be convicted of at trial, but if he pleads guilty to this more serious charge he gets to go home on probation. Anyone not familiar with the system would intuitively believe that if they simply are not convicted of any other crimes while on probation they will be okay. However, what they are not told is that the conditions of probation are such that it is virtually impossible not to violate them. Inevitably, when he does violate the conditions of his probation, he winds up serving a longer sentence than if he was convicted at trial.

While I do not have any sympathy for individuals who commit crimes, I nevertheless believe in justice. Although the system described above may do an efficient job of obtaining guilty pleas from guilty defendants, it comes at the price of subjecting innocent defendants to extreme pressure to plead guilty. It is, therefore, seriously flawed. Every child is taught in school that one of the great things about our country is that our criminal justice system is designed to protect innocent people who are accused of crimes and that it is better to let 10 guilty people go free rather than convict one innocent person.

While the video doesn't propose any solutions to the above described problem, there is an obvious starting point for solving this problem; Simply limit the sentence someone could receive by being convicted at trial to something like double whatever sentence they are offered by way of a plea offer. This would provide an adaquate incentive for a guilty defendant to plead guilty without creating the disparity in punishment between taking the plea offer and going to trial that would cause an innocent person to plead guilty."