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join the discussion: What are your reactions to this report on the plea bargain and its role in America's criminal justice system?

 

Dear FRONTLINE,

The excellent program only confirms my prior impressions.
Police investigate till they have a likely suspect, then they stop. 90-95% of the time they have the right person. They usually do not look for exculpatory evidence nor look for other possible suspects after they have enough evidence to hand over to the DA for charges.

If you are guilty, the plea system is great. Your capable public defender can generally negotiate greatly reduced sentences. Often before, and almost inevitably after a forced plea or guilty verdict, the DA is mentally locked in. At this point, even exonerating evidence like DNA not matching in a rape murder case is viewed with blind skepticism such as "he could have been using a condom and she could have had consensual sex with some unknown someone else before."

If you are truly innocent, you should first hire a detective to carry on the investigation where the police stopped, and then a private defense attorney. Heaven help you if you are destitute.

Osman Vincent
Berkeley, CA

Dear FRONTLINE,

Dear Frontline,
I echo the sentiments of A. Marinelli of Providence. By the end of the show The Plea last night, my heart felt so sad. Realizing that plea bargaining is a routine practice, and that it directly causes a hellish existence of many innocent people was almost too much to bear. The stories seemed more like science fiction than reality because they were so inhumane! It is very difficult to think that this mentality pervades the court system in the USA, "The land of the free?"

I too was filled with a sense of urgency, and would like to do something to help the individuals who are so clearly abused by our system (it is difficult to use the word justice).

Who can I write to to help Erma Faye Stewart, Regina Kelly and Patsy Kelly Jarrett in their causes for justice?

Thanks for bringing these injustices to our attention!

Eleanor Farjeon
Boulder, CO

Eleanor farjeon
Boulder, Colorado

FRONTLINE's editors respond:

The homepage of this web site offers information on each individual profiled in FRONTLINE's program. Just click on the picture/name.

Dear FRONTLINE,

Although a long-time faithful viewer and fierce admirer of Frontline, few programs have moved me as much as the one on the pernicious and destructive effects of plea bargains. I not omly was moved to tears, I wept like a child.

It is totally unacceptable that these egregious injustices are such an integral part of our legal system. Other than trying to help the people on the program, please help us learn what I can do to bring this cruel practice to an end, short of going to law school, in the seventh decade of my life, myself!

Allana Elovson
Santa Monica, CA

Dear FRONTLINE,

What Ofral Bickel presented in this program was four tragic, four very sad miscarriages of justice. But what I have to ask is this, "Are these outcomes the general rule of our plea bargaining system of justice here in America, or are these the exceptions to the general rule?"

I believe that these are the exceptions. "Over 95% of our criminal justice cases are settled through the plea bargaining system of justice here in America" was stated in the program. If over 95% of our criminal justice cases turned out like the four cases presented in this program, then I believe that there would be such a public outcry as to be deafening.

Our criminal justice system here in America isn't perfect, as has been shown in this program. Miscarriages of justice do occur. Remember, Justice is blind. And our criminal justice system here in America could be better, as has been shown in this program.

But I still believe that our criminal justice system here in America is one of the best in the entire world, if not the best. And one of the reasons why it is the best is because of the fourth estate, our "Freedom of the Press".

Grady Henry
Casa Grande, Arizona

Dear FRONTLINE,

After reading Assistant District Attorney Jeff Traylorís comments, I felt compelled to reply also. He states, ìNo ethical prosecutor would ever prosecute a crime for which he or she was not convinced of the guilt of the offenderî. Maybe the problem is, Mr. Traylor, that many in the criminal justice system repeatedly have demonstrated a lack of ethics in this regard.

Of course, people guilty of committing crimes need to be prosecuted, and there are so many out there. The consideration here is the virtues of a justice system that is indifferent to whether or not the conviction, or even over-prosecution, of innocent people is acceptable in order to prosecute more guilty people. I do not know any DAís personally, but I have spoken to several attorneys that do. The mindset they have conveyed to me is that the common assumption of many DAís is that even if an accused person is innocent of the specific charges, the fact they were charged indicates they are undoubtedly guilty of something else they werenít caught for. Therefore, any prosecution they receive is justified.

Excuse me, Mr. Traylor, but Iíve been a US citizen my entire life and that is NOT what our Constitution supports. Far wiser and greater men than you or I had set out to create a society based on enlightenment and fairness to all citizens, even if that means some guilty people go free. I guess at some point, the citizens of the US need to decide which is the greater evil. If we are going to support the kind of tactics and justifications presented in the Frontline piece, then we need to throw out the Constitution and re-write one that conveys what a citizenís actual rights really are and get on with it.

I would like to know Mr. Traylorís perspective on passing laws that hold cops accountable for presenting false statements and/or evidence and DAís accountable for suppressing evidence that supports a defendantís innocence in order to win a case. Should a cop who has committed perjury or a DA who facilitates an innocent personís conviction be allowed to continue in that profession? Should laws go a step further and these actions be made criminal violations? The current lack of personal accountability does nothing but encourage the ongoing practice of prosecuting the innocent along with the guilty.

These people are entrusted with immense power over peopleís civil rights and liberties and need to face severe consequences when this power is abused or used negligently. Legal deterrents would serve the same purpose as any other punishments for behavior deemed unacceptable to the citizenís of this country, and I only hope that as more and more American citizens become aware of the reality of whatís going on the outrage will eventually lead to the demand for corrective action.

In the meantime, God help usÖ the road to true enlightenment and justice is long and hard.

Eric Gardner
Modesto, CA

Dear FRONTLINE,

As my husband and I sat in a hotel room in Houston, Texas, watching your program on plea bargaining, we re-experienced what the parents had experienced. It is so amazing that the "Let's Make a Deal" is called justice. What makes me so sick about this system is the motivation for making money and gaining a reputation.

How many people's lives have been ruined so that a chalk mark of another conviction can be tallied behind a prosecuting attorney's or judge's name? Even one is too many. You have exposed what few people are willing to talk about, especially those that have been shoved around and sucked into the "judicial system." The problems exposed most definitely exist, but what can be done about them? Is there someone who has an idea how to do more than expose the malfunctions of this system?

K Soren

Dear FRONTLINE,

I,too had something like this happen to me. My charge was not a felony, but I lost everything and almost 7 years later have still not recovered. What the attorneys said on the show about the system was exactly what occurred to me after one irrational thing after another happened with my case. I got the local ACLU representative to appear in the audience during one of my court appearances. The judge was extremely nervous and turned all the evidence over to me and gave me 6 months to find another attorney. None would help me and the rest is history. Isn't anyone trying to put a stop to this? So what if the court systems are backed up? That's not the innocent citizens fault.
I am almost speechless with disbelief that this is allowed to happen in America. It basically says that we are no better off than any other oppressive regime in the world. I am willing to work to try to stop this or at least make stiff financial penalties a reality for these felons masquerading as servers of justice.

Elizabeth
Half Moon Bay, CA

Dear FRONTLINE,

I find it tragically ironic that we have officially created a country far worse than the one our forefathers fled and faught so dillegently against.

Mr. Traylor, the Assistant District Attorney in East Baton Rouge, who posted to this site his letter, personifies the problamatic prosecutor: despite the evidence presented to him, he honestly believes that innocent people don't plea bargin. Mr. Traylor is an example of THE TYPES OF PEOPLE THAT SHOULD BE IN OUR PRISONS, NOT RUNNING THEM, FOR GOD'S SAKES!!!!

Of course, guilty people plea bargin, Mr. Traylor, we already know that. Frontline was trying to expose the horrors that we don't know about.

I also find it interesting that Assistant District Attorney Traylor is so compelled to defend what he does. I guess it makes his job easier, and he, like Judge Egitto, probably has no trouble sleeping at night.

This reminds me of another Frontline show, in which a black American had served 18 years for murder. With the advancement of technology, it was discovered that his DNA did not match that taken from the crime sceen. After this breakthrough, prosecutors still maintained that this wrongfully accused man was probably at the sceen and still guilty of something. Therefore he should not be given a new trial, outrageous!!

Ms. Jarrett's story was especially disturbing to me. As the facts were presented, I couldn't help thinking, but for the grace of God. . .

Gandhi once said that you can judge a culture by the way they treat their animals. I guess, even Gandhi couldn't fathom how poorly a society could treat its own fellow humans.

For one of the fist times in my life, I was actually ashamed to be an American.

Thank goodness for this discussion board. It brought back the reality, that, for the most part, our existance is nurtured by compassion.

Jan Koontz
Imperial Beach, CA

Dear FRONTLINE,

It is absolutley ridiculous how the United States court system works. It's ridiculous how some judges are more harsh then others. On the case of Charles Gampero Jr., who knows what could have happened if another judge was assigned to the case. That is what's so ridiculous about the court system.

Charles Gampero is innocent, there is no question about it. The victims father even said it himself. And if the parole board doesn't take soemthing like that into consideration I don't know what else could release Charles form prison, for good. He has served more then enough time behind bars for a crime that he did not commit.

This documentary taught me a lot I did not know about the Plea Bargains. How the court gets to you to pleadign guilty just to save them time. Charles Gampero Jr. deserves to be home with his family and friends. Not in a prison cell for a crime that he did not commit.

Jeff Warner
Brooklyn, New York

Dear FRONTLINE,

With 17 years as a Court Appointed/Public Defender in both Virginia and New Mexico, I can only hope that none of the attorneys or clients that watched your program rush to the conclusion that plea bargains are an entire evil.

When appointed to my first capital murder trial (involving a client who was only 17 and a hopeless "throwaway") a kind judge summoned me into his chambers with the Commonwealth's Attorney and told me he would NOT give the Death Penalty if we pled guitly to the Court. The promise, the "deal", the entire scenario was clearly "unethical," but given the hopeless facts, entirely compassionate...and appropriate.

The Judge warned me that if we went to trial, the Jury would sentence (per Virginia law) and he would not disturb a jury verdict. Despite all my efforts to convince him otherwise, the kid would NOT accept this "backroom plea"...and, as a consequence, he was ultimately executed. IT AINT THE PLEAS, IT'S THE PEOPLE!

Damian Horne
Santa Fe, NM

Dear FRONTLINE,

Another big problem that I did not see mentioned [in this report] is the fact that it is rare for the trial judge to suppress improperly obtained evidence, i.e. insufficient probable cause, unreasonable search.

When this occurs, the Defendant must try to have the trial court reversed on appeal. Unfortunately, most Defendants are going to sit in jail during the appeal process, which may take one or two years. This also adds to the burden and pressure to obtain a plea agreement.

Kirby Evans
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Dear FRONTLINE,

...the program was over powering and convinced me of along held belief that the bulk of prosecutors nationwide are more interested in securing convictions for personal or political gain and whether the defendant is guilty or innocent is the farthest thing from their mind.....Homer Cummings must be turning over in his grave

robert reilly
wakefield, rhode island

Dear FRONTLINE,

Your documentary displays rampant abuse by legal professionals who are trapped in a system where caseloads are so high that they can only survive by adopting the unethical practices they see their peers engaging in. The solution is 3 part:

1. Strip investigators, prosecutors, and judges of the immunity they currently enjoy, so that they can be held liable for miscarriages of justice.

2. Increase the funding/decrease the caseloads, so that it becomes possible for professionals to give each case the attention it deserves.

3. Shine more sunlight on the points in the system where corruption thrives; for instance, maybe court appointed lawyers should be required to tape record their meetings with clients; the recordings would become the property of the client, to be used as evidence both for appealing convictions, and for suing these lawyers for damages.

I am a mental health professional. The unjust system shown in ìThe Pleaî corrupts my profession too: legal professionals hire psychologists, psychiatrists, etc. to render professional opinions. These opinions are treated as evidence in the courtroom. But the sad fact is that often the psychologist/psychiatrist twists the facts to support whoever is paying their fee, so that whichever party has greater funds can carry the day. ...



durango, CO

Dear FRONTLINE,

I encourage all viewers to email Rick Perry, govenor of Texas,http://www.governor.state.tx.us/ and ask for clemency for Ms.Stewart. This wrong must be righted.

j ross
fairfield, ct

Dear FRONTLINE,

As a person who watches approximately 2 hours of television a year, my interest was piqued when I saw the issues to be discussed on Thursday evening's edition of Frontline (June 17, 2004). What an outstanding program it turned out to be. My heart went out to all of these inidividuals. I share the sentiment of another respondent in saying I too hope the case of Erma Faye Stewart comes to the attention of Oprah Winfrey and her staff. Charlie Gampero, I am behind you all the way, as I am all of you. I found myself shouting at my TV cursing that corrupt, evil Judge Egitto. He says he can sleep nights - with a clear conscience to boot. Absolutely unbelievable. One thing is certain - there is no "bargain" in store for those who accept a plea bargain - only lifelong haunting consequences.

Kathleen Sauser
Anthon, IA

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posted june 17, 2004

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