Whatever else District Attorney John Sarsfield may do in his
remaining tenure, it will unlikely be as dangerous and destructive
to the interests of the people of San Benito County as his recent
proclamation that there will be no more negotiated pleas by his
office. It is always possible, using his specious reasoning, that
he could come up with a more inane idea than abolishing plea
bargaining, but it would be difficult to think of one.
Whatever else District Attorney John Sarsfield may do in his remaining tenure, it will unlikely be as dangerous and destructive to the interests of the people of San Benito County as his recent proclamation that there will be no more negotiated pleas by his office. It is always possible, using his specious reasoning, that he could come up with a more inane idea than abolishing plea bargaining, but it would be difficult to think of one.
While it may indeed have merit to deny a reduction of charges to serious gang offenders, even that idea should be questioned. Often, a plea bargain is struck in exchange for information from a defendant that will aid law enforcement in apprehending and prosecuting others who might slip through the cracks in the justice system. Without such information, those often more-dangerous offenders will remain free to continue preying on the community. With the knowledge that no plea reduction will be offered, the little fish in the pond will have no incentive to give up the larger.
Twenty nine years ago, the Supreme Court of the United States acknowledged the importance of plea bargaining when it said, “Whatever might be the situation in an ideal world, the fact is that the guilty plea and the often concomitant plea bargain are important components of this country’s criminal justice system. Properly administered, they can benefit all concerned. The defendant avoids extended pretrial incarceration and the anxieties and uncertainties of a trial; he gains a speedy disposition of his case, the chance to acknowledge his guilt, and a prompt start in realizing whatever potential there may be for rehabilitation. Judges and prosecutors conserve vital and scarce resources. The public is protected from the risks posed by those charged with criminal offenses who are at large on bail while awaiting completion of criminal proceedings.” Blackledge v. Allison.
When you search for the real reasons for the District Attorney’s policy, it becomes obvious that political ambition and posturing in an election year rise to the top of the list. In addition, the all-or-nothing approach to criminal justice offered by Sarsfield is an outrageous attempt to force the county to spend money that it can ill afford to spend by hiring more staff in the District Attorney’s office. Without the ability to dispose of cases by negotiation, the current deputies in the DA’s office will now be preparing for more frequent and unnecessary trials. Their already busy calendar will now bear the additional burden of being in trial for days on end, and not in the office or clearing the calendar in the courtroom. A good argument for increasing the budget of the D.A., but in the end, everybody else loses.
The community will suffer greater imposition and wasted resources as they find themselves called to jury duty in cases that could have been resolved quickly and more cost effectively through plea negotiation. Our already overtaxed police department and sheriff’s office will be spending much more time investigating cases to make sure that the D.A. can charge cases correctly. The burden to the taxpayers of this community will increase significantly, while the effect on crime will be negligible. Clearly this is no bargain for the people of San Benito County.
George A. Barton, Esq., Hollister