the plea
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Albert Alschuler
Albert Alschuler is a professor of law and criminology at the University of Chicago. In this interview, he offers an overview of the moral, judicial and constitutional implications of relying on plea bargains to deal with the vast majority of felony cases, and he suggests three ways to help fix the system. "I think most people in the legal profession think plea bargaining is just fine," he tells FRONTLINE. "It's in the interest of prosecutors and defense lawyers and judges, and they've devised elaborate rationales for this process. I don't think any of the rationales make sense, and I think that makes me a maverick."

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bruce barket
Bruce Barket is Charles Gampero Jr.'s new defense attorney and is currently working on getting his guilty plea withdrawn based on new evidence, the involuntary nature of Gampero's plea, and the ineffective assistance of Charles Gampero's first attorney. Barket also has filed a motion to reverse the parole board's decision denying Gampero parole. Here, Barket offers a measured view of the judge's interactions with Gampero when he pleaded. He also talks about how most prosecutors handle plea bargaining, and defends the plea and its role in the justice process: "… we have tens of thousands of cases. They can't all be tried. You have to get people to plead guilty. If you don't, the system breaks down."

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stephen bright
Stephen Bright is a defense attorney, professor of law at Yale and Harvard Universities and director of the Southern Center for Human Rights. He believes America's court systems are "like a fast food restaurant," processing cases through the rampant use of plea bargains. He talks about how poor defendants invariably receive inadequate defense assistance and argues rich people get "a completely different kind of justice." Bright also details the many grave, long-range problems facing a person of modest means who pleads and gets probation. "One reason a lot of people plead guilty is because they're told they can go home that day ... they'll get probation. What they usually don't take into account is that they're being set up to fail."

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bruce green
Bruce Green is professor of law and director of the Louis Stein Center for Law and Ethics at Fordham University. In this interview, he contrasts the "ideal world" of what a defense counsel would be doing for a defendant regarding whether to plea or go to trial to the "real world" situation. He also talks about the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling on the consitutionality of plea bargains, what a defendant forfeits by taking a plea, and both the benefits and the downsides of plea bargains.

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John H. langbein
John Langbein is a professor of law and legal history at Yale Law School. In this interview, he describes how the plea bargain system pressures people to buckle and accept a plea -- even if they are innocent -- and how prosecutors, judges and defense attorneys have a role -- a stake even -- in seeing that this happens. He also talks about the Supreme Court's indifference to the pressures on a defendant in the plea process, and why he believes the rampant growth of pleas is rooted in the trial system's failures.

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Judge Michael mcspadden
Judge Michael McSpadden has been a criminal court judge in Harris County (Houston), Texas since 1982. In this interview, he talks about the plea bargain's vital role in the criminal justice system and how the plea process works in his courtroom, and he also describes his own role as a judge. While he defends pleas, he acknowledges that the vital "human element" is required to guarantee that the system works correctly: "Plea bargaining only works if you have experienced, competent defense attorneys, experienced, competent prosecutors, and a judge who will make sure this is done properly."

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paul nugent
Paul Nugent has been Kerry Max Cook's attorney since 1991. Here, he details the case's history, the prosecutorial misconduct he discovered after getting involved, and the stunning turn the case took when the state of Texas offered Cook a plea bargain just a few months before his fourth capital murder trial was set to start. But Cook refused to take a guilty plea and admit to a crime which he insisted he didn't do. He then was offered a "no contest" plea, which means he can maintain his innocence while knowing that the court has convicted him -- a very unusual concession in a capital murder trial.

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Jonathan H. oberman
Jonathan Oberman is a clinical professor of law specializing in criminal defense at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University. His interview here offers an incisive primer on plea bargaining's role in the judicial process. Oberman also talks about the different categories of people who are affected by pleas, and he explains why the "enormous questions" surrounding plea bargaining "can't be raised apart from some of the other problems that really infect the criminal justice system."

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stephen schulhofer
Stephen Schulhofer is a professor of law at New York University School of Law. In this interview, he explains why he believes that from every perspective of the justice process, plea bargaining "is a disastrous system" that takes away the rights and liberties of the defendant. He lays out how "the system in its details puts the defendant under … presssure" so that they end up feeling trapped and with no choice other than to plead guilty, even if they are innocent. Responding to critics who say the justice system would collapse without plea bargains, Schulhofer offers a simple solution for fixing the system that "essentially solves 99, 100 percent of the problems..."

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abbe smith
Abbe Smith is a professor of law at Georgetown University and has been Patsy Kelly Jarrett's defense attorney for the last 10 years. Here, she summarizes Jarrett's case. Smith strongly defends pleas as a critical part of defense lawyering -- not because they are good but because the system "stinks." Smith says she would have forcefully pressed Jarrett to take the guilty plea had she been her lawyer at the time. "It's the job of a defense lawyer to make our clients plead guilty if it's in their interest to do so. … Lawyering is all judgment. If I think my client's going to go down at trial, or in the appellate process, it's my job to make my client plead guilty and cut their losses, even if they're innocent."


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posted june 17, 2004

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