Bargaining for expedience? the overuse of joint recommendations on sentence

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Ireland, David
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Abstract It is often stated that plea-bargaining is an indispensable part of a fair and efficient criminal justice system. By observing sentencing hearings in the Provincial Court of Manitoba this thesis shows that some form of plea bargaining is involved in a substantial majority of cases. Almost half of these plea bargained matters resulted in joint recommendations on sentence. However, the vast majority of these joint recommendations did not involve a true plea bargain. In this limited study, it was observed that the presiding judge accepted all joint recommendations as presented by counsel. One of the goals of plea bargaining is to arrive at joint recommendations on sentence. Though lawyers on both sides of the courtroom may perceive an advantage to joint recommendations, for the accused these advantages may be illusory. Judges routinely accept joint recommendations despite not being the progeny of true plea bargains involving a quid pro quo. This research suggests that the vast majority of joint recommendations are born of cultural expedience rather than as a result of true plea bargains. These cultural joint recommendations encroach significantly on the judicial function and may erode public confidence in the administration of justice. The continued proliferation of cultural joint recommendations may further entrench a culture of expedience in our criminal justice system and could potentially lead to higher sentences for offenders.
plea bargaining, criminal law, criminal justice