Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Tracy Green Interviewed On Plea Bargain Agreements In Criminal Justice System By Santa Monica Daily Press

Tracy Green was interviewed in the Santa Monica Daily Press  as part of their story entitled "Family fights plea bargain in deadly hit-and-run" regarding the role of plea bargains in the criminal justice system. The fact is that approximately 95% of all cases plea before trial.  While most clients come to our office looking to prevent or defend a case, it is important to understand the role of plea negotiations in the criminal justice system -- both federal and state.

The article touched briefly on some of Ms. Green's beliefs and strategy as it relates to negotiating and/or considering a plea bargain for her clients, as part of case strategy.  The article did not quote Ms. Green's statement to the reporter that she "believes the system is broken" and that pleas are used to process the huge numbers of cases that are filed each year. Often pleas are offered in weak state cases that offer a "guaranteed" result and help avoid the risk and expense of trial.

Scott Burns, the executive director with the National District Attorneys Association, explained it well in the article: “The reality is that there are between 15 and 20 million non-misdemeanor cases prosecuted in America every year.” Mr. Burns added: “If each of those, or frankly half or a third of those, went to trial, we would need a much, much larger criminal justice system.” Instead, attorneys forge plea bargains, agreements that offer a potentially lighter sentence in exchange for a guilty or no-contest plea.

The article also stated: "They also offer security, said Tracy Green, a private defense attorney based in Los Angeles.  Whereas plea deals are negotiated between the attorneys involved, jury trials rely on a body of 12 unknowns, making the process a roll of the dice for both sides." I hate to tell people it's like going to Las Vegas, but justice can come at a price," Green said." 

"Defense attorneys also look at the merits of the case, but also determine if it’s a financial possibility for their client to go through the expensive trial process and if they’re capable of serving time, even a reduced amount, Green said."

“What are the client’s goals? Can they risk, handle or afford emotionally or lifestyle-wise any threat of incarceration, or having a conviction of what’s been charged?” she asked. “What’s the downside risk if you go to trial and lose?”

While neither attorney believes that the system is broken, Burns was more apt to defend it than Green, who felt that defendants risk getting a harsher sentence if they go for a trial and lose." It is now considered "below the standard of care" for an attorney not to explain the benefits of early plea negotiations to targets of investigations and persons charged with a crime -- especially in the federal system. Thus, any experienced criminal defense attorney should explore these issues and explain the system to their client without fear of looking "weak" or that they are "not a fighter." These are complex issues and each person's case and situation may be different. 

Some clients are concerned that discussing plea bargains is a sign of weakness but it is a tool to be used. For example, if we have a professional client who is charged with a felony it is important to address all potential strategies including going to trial, the risks if the trial is not successful and whether a certain result (such as a misdemeanor plea by a corporation) may make sense given the facts and risks. Each person or business entity have different goals and different ability to absorb risks. 

To be conscious of the role of plea negotiations is important. It is unfortunate that there are many people who plea because it is in their best personal and business interest rather than risk going to trial, but if it is to be done it should be explored in detail, addressed throughout the process and not simply done at the last minute when there is fear of going to trial. This requires an assessment of the facts, legal exposure and personal issues faced by the client.

Posted by Tracy Green, Esq. 
To speak with Ms. Green, you can email her at or call for an appointment at 213-233-2260.


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