Argument: Defendants are often pressured into accepting plea bargains


The case of Charles Gampero, Jr in 1994

Charles Gampero, Jr. was arrested and charged with murder in the second degree in 1994, but the 20-year-old insisted he was innocent. Gampero hoped that a jury would believe his story and acquit him of the charges, but this never happened. Gampero and his family say the judge pressured the young man to accept a plea bargain that would send him to prison for seven to 21 years. “[The judge] told me point blank—he said, ‘I will give your son 25 to life, so you better take the plea, or if you don’t take the plea, he’s getting it,” says Charles Gampero, Sr., whose son is now entering his ninth year in prison. “We took the plea agreement thinking that the judge knew what he was talking about and my son would be home by the time he’s 27,” Gampero Sr. says. “It didn’t work out.'”[1]

Books and studies making this point

  • Cahill, Michael T, and Robinson, Paul H. Law Without Justice, How Criminal Law Doesn’t Give People What They Are Due.: Argue that prosecutors and judges frequently abuse the practice of plea bargains.
  • Vogel, Mary E. Plea Bargaining, the Courts, and the Making of Political Authority. Oxford University Press, 2007. Vogel posits that plea bargaining has allowed for state judges and prosecutors to dominate the judicial system in an unjust fashion. This broad point covers in part the notion of state judge and prosecutor’s ability to pressure defendants and affect the outcome of a plea bargain, whereas a trial by jury would not enable this.

Pressure for plea bargains in exchange for testimony

If judges and prosecutors are frequently pressuring defendants to accept plea bargains, is there any good reason to believe that they are not doing the same for defendants who are offered plea bargains in exchange for testimony? There are similar perceived social benefits that might cause a judge to pressure defendants in both instances. In plea bargain cases in general, judges and prosecutors have an interest to press for plea bargains to decrease the strains on their court system and process as many cases as possible. In plea bargain deals that are exchanged for testimony, judges and prosecutors might have another social interest in mind: incriminating a bigger and badder criminal, which is also arguably a social utility. It could be argued that such an incentive might cause judges and prosecutors to attempt to unjustly pressure criminals to accept a plea bargain in exchange for testimony.


See also