Annual Meeting

Plea bargaining principles will create a more 'fair and just system,' task force co-chair says

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Two doors leading to either trial or a plea bargain

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The House of Delegates addressed pernicious problems in the plea bargaining system at the ABA Annual Meeting in Denver on Monday.

Resolution 502 adopts 14 principles that were created by the Criminal Justice Section’s Plea Bargaining Task Force, which includes a diverse group of practioners, judges, law professors, and members of think tanks and advocacy organizations. These principles are based on testimony from criminal justice experts and people impacted by plea bargaining as well as scholarly and legal reports and state and federal rules of criminal procedure.

In February, the Plea Bargaining Task Force published the 14 principles in a report to outline how plea bargaining should operate within the larger criminal justice system.

In introducing the resolution, Lucian Dervan, co-chair of the Plea Bargaining Task Force, noted that 98% of criminal cases in federal courts end with a plea bargain. While there are some benefits to pleas, he said there also are troubling elements, including a lack of oversight, an inability of courts to interpret the law and a lack of community involvement with the larger criminal justice system.

Follow along with the ABA Journal’s coverage of the 2023 ABA Annual Meeting here.

These 14 principles will help “create a path forward toward a more transparent, fair and just system of plea bargaining,” Dervan said. “It does this by encouraging an active docket of trials, by establishing principles to prevent coercive plea bargaining and by encouraging more transparency and data collection related to plea bargaining.”

Resolution 502 passed overwhelmingly. According to its report, the ABA can now advance the principles through collaborations with other entities and by discussing pending legislation and filing amicus briefs related to plea bargaining.

The Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice co-sponsored the resolution.

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