Plea Bargains, Jail Chains, and Grits For Lunch

Grits for Breakfast is hitting daily home runs. The pace and strength of GFB copy puts most blogs to shame. I can not understand why Scott Henson is not writing for a major media outlet. He inspires this blog on a regular basis. I should retitle IWTS “Grits for Lunch.”

GFB posted recently on the economic forces behind plea bargains. His conclusion is that traditional negotiation models do not apply. Especially in cases where the defendant is in jail.

In my career I prosecuted mainly misdemeanors. In East Texas every Friday I had jail docket. We had a nice space in the jail where the prisoners could meet with us and we could “plea bargain.” Most of the defendant’s had attorneys. If not, they would sign a waiver. These defendants had been in jail anywhere from 14 to 30 days.

These inmates could not get out of county jail because either bail was too high or they had a “hold.” A “hold” is a situation where an inmate has a warrant out of another county or parole (a parole hold is typically called a blue warrant.)

95% of these defendants would plead guilty during these jail dockets. Why?

First of all, we offered a lot of “time served” deals. For example, Joe Defendant gets arrested for DWI. Joe has been in jail 30 days and can’t make bail. I offer Joe a sentence of…. 30 days. Joe pleads guilty and gets to go home.

Second, if we didn’t offer you time served we offered probation. I knew most of the defendants would have a very small chance of completing probation. A common question during these “plea bargain” sessions was “Do I get out today?”
Anyone who has been stuck in jail for 30 days will plead guilty to get out. Out of a year of defendants I maybe had one who insisted on going to trial, and I think he ended up being incompetent. Even the defendants who rejected my initial plea offer would beg to plead guilty when I came back next Friday. People stuck in jail want out.

On a side note- When I was in Wichita Falls as a public defender the State would offer every misdemeanor inmate time served, but they would double the amount of time to look “tough in crime.” For example, Joe Defendant who had served 30 actual days in jail would get a sentence of 60 days, and the State would give them credit for 60 days. I was told that the DA used these sentences as campaign material.


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One response to “Plea Bargains, Jail Chains, and Grits For Lunch”

  1. <img src="http://www.blogge says:

    So what is a defendant to do when coerced into entering a guilty plea for the sake of freedom? For 17 months I insisted on a trial for a felony charge for which I was on bond. After rejecting the DA offer of 2 yrs deferred adj. My next trip to court, I was arrested in the court room on a bond revocation and held without bond or a bond hearing. I had to plead guilty to be set free or sit in jail until my trial at least 6 months in the future. Are the criminal courts exempt from duress?

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