Would a Revolt Against Plea Bargains Crash the Justice System?


The criminal justice system is “rigged” against jury trials, says Michelle Alexander, author of a book on race and mass incarceratation. Writing in the New York Times, she notes that 90-plus percent of people charged with crimes forfeit their constitutional rights and plead guilty. “The truth is that government officials have deliberately engineered the system to assure that the jury trial system established by the Constitution is seldom used,” said Timothy Lynch of the libertarian Cato Institute.

Alexander says “politicians champion stiff sentences for nearly all crimes, including mandatory minimum sentences and three-strikes laws; the result is a dramatic power shift from judges to prosecutors.” She quotes scholar Angela Davis as saying that, “if the number of people exercising their trial rights suddenly doubled or tripled in some jurisdictions, it would create chaos.” Alexander says such chaos would force mass incarceration to the top of the policy agenda, leaving two main options: sharply scale back the number of criminal cases or amend the Constitution. Either would create a crisis and the system would crash. Writes Alexander: “Mass protest would force a public conversation that, to date, we have been content to avoid.”

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