He is angry at the changing world around him. He is angry at the Bar, with its charter marks and political correctness, the Crown Prosecution Service for its gross incompetence and at the people running his chambers for their lack of loyalty to the clerk who had set up their chambers and helped to make them well paid lawyers. He is also full of love for his wife, their family and for Pauline, a legal assistant at another law firm An over-the-top bittersweet comedy that introduces us to one of the most unlikely anti-heroes of modern times, Wallace, who is destined to leave his mark both on the legal establishment and his readers.
Paul Genney, after leaving Bristol University, worked as a dentist for six years before becoming a potato merchant. He stood unsuccessfully twice for parliament in the s before becoming a criminal barrister.
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He now divides his time between his homes in Grimsby and London and his chambers in Hull. Pleading Guilty is his first novel. Convert currency.
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To withdraw your consent, see Your Choices. About the author. This is the age of the plea bargain. Most people adjudicated in the criminal-justice system today waive the right to a trial and the host of protections that go along with one, including the right to appeal. Instead, they plead guilty. The vast majority of felony convictions are now the result of plea bargains—some 94 percent at the state level, and some 97 percent at the federal level. Estimates for misdemeanor convictions run even higher.
These are astonishing statistics, and they reveal a stark new truth about the American criminal-justice system: Very few cases go to trial.
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Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy acknowledged this reality in , writing for the majority in Missouri v. Frye , a case that helped establish the right to competent counsel for defendants who are offered a plea bargain. That is what plea bargaining is. It is not some adjunct to the criminal justice system; it is the criminal justice system. Ideally, plea bargains work like this: Defendants for whom there is clear evidence of guilt accept responsibility for their actions; in exchange, they get leniency.
A time-consuming and costly trial is avoided, and everybody benefits. But in recent decades, American legislators have criminalized so many behaviors that police are arresting millions of people annually—almost 11 million in , the most recent year for which figures are available.
Pleading Guilty by Paul Genney (Paperback, 2007)
Taking to trial even a significant proportion of those who are charged would grind proceedings to a halt. Because of plea bargains, the system can quickly handle the criminal cases of millions of Americans each year, involving everything from petty violations to violent crimes. And plea bargains are intrinsically tied up with race, of course, especially in our era of mass incarceration. As prosecutors have accumulated power in recent decades, judges and public defenders have lost it. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, , people are in jail on any given day, and , of them—70 percent—are in pretrial detention.
Many of these defendants are facing minor charges that would not mandate further incarceration, but they lack the resources to make bail and secure their freedom. Some therefore feel compelled to take whatever deal the prosecutor offers, even if they are innocent.
Dripps cited the case of Terrance Graham, a black year-old who, in , attempted to rob a restaurant with some friends. The prosecutor charged Graham as an adult, and he faced a life sentence without the possibility of parole at trial. The prosecutor offered Graham a great deal in exchange for a guilty plea: one year in jail and two more years of probation.
Graham took the deal. But he was later accused of participating in another robbery and violated his probation—at which point the judge imposed the life sentence. In , the Supreme Court ruled, in Graham v. Florida , that the punishment Graham faced at trial was so cruel and unusual as to be unconstitutional. The Court found that a juvenile who did not commit homicide cannot face life without parole. Thanks in part to plea bargains, millions of Americans have a criminal record; in , the National Employment Law Project estimated that figure at 65 million.
It is a mark that can carry lifetime consequences for education, employment, and housing. Having a record, even for a violation that is trivial or specious, means a person can face tougher charges and punishment if he or she again encounters the criminal-justice system. Plea bargaining has become so coercive that many innocent people feel they have no option but to plead guilty.
The result, according to the late Harvard law professor William J. To learn more about how plea bargaining works in America today, I went to Nashville, where Shanta Sweatt entered her plea. A blue county in a red state, Davidson County, which includes Nashville, has a population of about , According to District Attorney Glenn Funk, Nashville—Davidson County handles about , criminal cases a year, 70 percent of which are misdemeanors, 30 percent felonies.
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Of all the defendants processed in Nashville—Davidson County last year, only 86 had their cases resolved at trial. During my week in Nashville, I attended hearings at the courthouse on a full range of cases. I sat in on the plea discussions between an assistant district attorney and two public defenders.
I observed a public defender in conversation with jailed defendants facing felony charges. I saw justice meted out courtroom by courtroom, often determined in part by the attitude, even the mood, of the prosecutor. My experience may not have been representative, but over the course of five days, I saw few defendants who had harmed someone else. Those who were facing felony charges had been arrested for drug offenses; some were clearly addicts with mental-health problems. I started with the misdemeanor-citation docket, which covers the lowest-level offenses. The defendants on the courtroom benches were white, black, and Latino.
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Misdemeanors are lesser offenses than felonies and are supposed to result in limited penalties. In Tennessee, Class A misdemeanors are sometimes referred to as s: convictions that carry a maximum sentence of 11 months and 29 days. The most-minor offenses can result in being required to take a class or do community service. The punishments are not designed to be severe, or to create long-lasting consequences. But for many people they do. Millions of people each year are now processed for misdemeanors. In Nashville, I was struck by how many people were in court because they had been picked up for driving with a suspended license.
In , for example, Tennessee passed a law requiring the suspension of licenses for nonpayment of certain financial obligations. If people stop driving when their licenses are suspended, they may no longer be able to reliably get to work, which means they risk losing their jobs and going deeper into debt. As a result, many people whose licenses have been suspended drive anyway, putting themselves in constant jeopardy of racking up misdemeanor convictions. Plead guilty to enough suspended-license misdemeanors, and a subsequent charge can be a felony. Funk, who was elected in , has stopped routinely jailing defendants arrested for driving with a suspended license.
It gives them ownership in society. And once their names are on the docket, the system strongly encourages them to plead guilty.