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Crowded courts give rise to plea bargaining

It is generally known that courts in Kentucky and throughout the U.S. are overcrowded. In fact, it has led jurisdictions all over the country to institute night courts to handle preliminary legal proceedings and lesser charges, such as arraignments and traffic citations, to ensure time during the week for other business. Another result of having crowded dockets is the wide use of plea bargaining to resolve cases.

According to The Atlantic, plea bargains account for the way 97 percent of all federal cases are concluded, which mirrors the rates for individual states' plea bargains in criminal cases. The practice took root following the Civil War, as displaced citizens and immigrants poured into cities and crime rates began to rise. It continued to be a common practice, one that was cemented with the federal government's enactment of prohibition and the resulting number of cases that flooded the court system. The use of plea bargains in resolving cases in New York and Chicago rose to 88 percent and 85 percent, respectively.

The American Bar Association points out several reasons for both prosecutors and defendants to consider plea bargaining. For defendants, it means saving time and money for trial preparation and trial. Defendants also avoid publicity, plus the possibility of a guilty verdict and resulting punishment, which is likely to be harsher than what is offered in a plea bargain. The court system benefits by saving the time and cost of trial on every charge made against defendant. Prosecutors save time and the cost of investigation, trial preparation and trial itself. Finally, both sides benefit by saving the stress and emotional turmoil of a trial.

A plea bargain can be initiated by either side, however it is subject to judicial approval. Typical agreements require the defendant to plead guilty to a lesser charge than the original. If there are several charges, the agreement may be a guilty plea to one charge in return for dropping the others. Or, the defendant may be offered a recommendation for a lighter sentence in exchange for a guilty plea.

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