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Plea Agreements- Are They Half a Loaf?

Plea agreement, victim impact, Donna R. Gore

One of the worse ordeals in the life of a crime victim that has experienced violent crime bar none, is the participation in the trial process.  In reality, a very small number of crimes actually make it to trial.   For expert information about this process, listen to the episode of Shattered Lives Radio with guest David LaBahn, President/CEO at Association of Prosecuting Attorneys

Definition of Plea Agreement via Findlaw.com

The process whereby a criminal defendant and prosecutor reach a mutually satisfactory disposition of a criminal case, subject to court approval.

Plea bargaining can conclude a criminal case without a trial. When it is successful, plea bargaining results in a plea agreement between the prosecutor and defendant. In this agreement, the defendant agrees to plead guilty without a trial, and, in return, the prosecutor agrees to dismiss certain charges or make favorable sentence recommendations to the court. Plea bargaining is expressly authorized in statutes and in court rules.

Prior to being thrust into the ranks of a crime victim, one usually has anecdotal information about what actually occurs. The passage of time between the offense and trial is truly “a lifetime,” with its many steps and “strategic delays employed by the defense.” However, from the standpoint of “the State,” in order to expedite the process and save money, frequently a plea bargain is sought.

Would crime victims prefer a “cut to the chase” once they are told of the court trial journey? Alternately, do most crime victims insist on their day in court regardless?   When I conducted a search, there was little hard data via the internet to ascertain the answer to this question. However, there is quite a bit on the advantages for the defendant to plea bargain (i.e. avoiding or reducing jail time, having the  certainty versus risk of a trial, significant reduction of sentences and reduction in  the number of charges, reducing hassles and stigma and  REDUCTION OF EXPENSE!).  In general, I would speculate that all crime victims want to see a perpetrator serve the longest sentence possible however it happens, no ifs, ands or buts!

The State of Connecticut is an “opt in “ state in which you, as the vulnerable victim have to take the initiative to fill out forms, let state agencies know your intentions in writing, and deal with the bureaucracies in addition to the overwhelming task of dealing with all of the other uncontrollable forces  that come with victimization. Whereas, in other states, the victim is automatically offered the information and you can chose to “opt out” which, in my opinion, is much less stressful and energy zapping!

PAPERWORK, PAPERWORK, PAPERWORK 

In my home state of Connecticut, as in many others, if your case is being considered for a plea agreement, the victim can request a copy of the terms of the agreement between the state and the defendant.  A request must be made to the jurisdictional state’s attorney. Although our law does not specify how to make the request, it is advised that it be in written form via certified mail with return receipt. The victim is required to submit a self-addressed stamped postcard for such notifications. The Notice of Intent to Exercise Crime Victim Rights includes many types of notices and requests depending upon your circumstances. This form can be downloaded from the internet or mailed and includes notification regarding plea and sentencing hearings.

Notice of Plea and Sentencing Hearings( State of Connecticut , as an illustration)

Prior to the acceptance of a plea pursuant to a plea agreement and prior to the imposition of a sentence, the prosecutor must advise the crime victim of the date, time and place of the original sentencing hearing or any judicial proceeding concerning the acceptance of a plea pursuant to a plea agreement.

The victim must inform the prosecutor that she or he wishes to make or submit a statement to the court and has complied with a request from such prosecutor to submit a stamped, self-addressed postcard for the purpose of such notification.  (C.G.S. §54-91c)

Plea bargains, as stated earlier, are designed to “dispose of cases more efficiently, “”unclog the docket” while weighing the interests of the citizens of the State and finally, the victim’s family. At times, the wishes of each party may coincide. However, more often than not, the victim’s family feels that the sentence imposed is “not just” that they have been short changed, particularly when only a percentage is served and when “good time” is added (if applicable).

For another perspective of the very limited information on crime victims and plea bargains, this report written by legal journalist Robin L. Barton offers a case example and briefly how  a couple of other administer, or do not administer victim rights when it comes to plea deals.

Importance of the Victim Impact Statement in court 

Whether a plea is struck or a lengthy trial is pursued, there can be no more powerful a moment in your personal association with the criminal justice system than to “have your say.”

Creating the appropriate victim impact statement can be a daunting task for families during one of the most traumatic times in their lives. After the initial loss, the journey through the judicial system can be equally frustrating, time-consuming and emotionally draining, re-traumatizing and bringing grief back to the surface. To best utilize the victims’ right to present a victim impact statement at trial, you must be clear-headed and as objective as possible, which for the crime victim is next to impossible.

I can assist crime victims with a personal and customized Victim Impact Statement and help take some of the burden away from your family at a time when tension and stress are at an all time high.  Professionally, but objectively, written to convey your feelings, emotions, and opinions regarding your case for the court record.  Contact me early for this invaluable service.

 

Plea Agreements- Are They Half a Loaf?

 

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