Tuesday, February 10, 2015

What jurors need to know during sentencing

Recently retired Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Cathy Cochran told Texas Monthly that jurors should be informed how much prison sentences would cost taxpayers, Grits noted yesterday. That got me thinking about what else jurors might be usefully told to better inform their decision making during the punishment phase.

To me, perhaps even more probative than the cost of a prison sentence (which in the context of government budgets is a bit of an abstraction, anyway), jurors should be informed of the lowest plea bargain offered by the prosecution to the defense pretrial, giving them a baseline to consider for the low end of the punishment range.

That simple improvement would substantially mitigate the "trial penalty" which has radically driven up plea bargain rates in the modern era. If jurors knew that the prosecutor before trial believed that penalty X was sufficient, the temptation to punish a defendant with 6X might be more easily avoided.

21 comments:

Mike Howard said...

That's a really interesting idea. I wonder if prosecutors knew that their offers would be scrutinized by a jury (and perhaps be perceived as too soft on crime), could that have the opposite impact and make prosecutors not offer "too sweet a deal" so they wouldn't be seen as soft?

Adrian said...

Its a good idea. It would discourage prosecutors from pursuing some cases.

They may then have to prove their cases in court rather than plea bargain 98%

sunray's wench said...

I was going to say, what about all the cases that never go before a jury, but Adrian beat me to it.

Still a good idea though.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@sw, in theory the penalties set by juries establish the framework for what pleas are offered. This suggestion would turn that dynamic around.

@Mike, that could happen, but over time IMO the institutional pressures to keep the process moving would trump their ability to game the plea system beyond reason once Ds start to call their bluff. They'll continue to offer good deals for the same reasons they might now - jail crowding, hard-to-prove cases and time constraints limiting how many trials they can functionally hold.

Anonymous said...

I think the truth about parole laws and how quickly inmates can earn good time credit would also be especially helpful.

Anonymous said...

To 12:26, if you're throwing the truth about parole laws into the mix, then go all the way and be sure to mention that the parole board is under no mandate to release someone when good time credit is earned--not even those who are eligible for so called Mandatory Supervision--and there are numerous offenders who have never had a single disciplinary case or loss of credit who still max out their sentences, making good time credit completely meaningless for anything other than putting their file in front of the BPP, who vote yes less than 35% of the time.

Anonymous said...

Telling them about parole will just make them sentence more harshly. Because people don't understand insanity in Texas, juries will find defendants competent lest they think the defendant may get out and kill again. Same goes for the death penalty--when it was either "kill them" or "they may get out in a few decades", prosecutors would seek, and juries give, the death penalty.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Jurors would probably assume the prosecutor who made the recommendation knew the parole laws. I doubt that would change their views much, especially if as per 2:08 they were told the full truth about parole, not an overhyped, dated version.

Anonymous said...

Prosecutors are clueless about parole laws. They don't have any better of an idea how long someone will stay in prison than the average Joe. They aren't clairvoyant about when someone will be released.

Anonymous said...

Truth about the cost of sentencing should definitely be discussed with the jury. Don't bother trying to explain anything about the most secretive board in existence. TDCJ parole is a nightmare, which until you or your family member has had to experience it, you just can't imagine

Paul Bailey said...

It might also reveal to jurors that the defendant believed his case was strong enough to show his innocence


Friscopaul.blogspot.com

Thomas R. Griffith said...

Nope, juries need to be taken completely out of the game when it comes to punishing the person they just voted to convict via the information supplied to them from the defense & prosecution. The information that the Judge didn't allow and why the defendant didn't take the stand are topics for another posting that have major influences on juries and what they dish out.

Why? because they want to go home (right after they cash / deposit that check). But in order to get that check they are required to be scapegoats one last time. Some willingly play along while others are forced to participate by bullies. It's heartbreaking and sickening to hear jurors speak about being tricked in to convicting the innocent and it affects them and those they share with for life.

When the person convicted turns out to be innocent (that's 100% Not Guilty for the goofballs in wait), the 'jury' is mentioned by those that are shown to have participated in the false arrest and subsequent gross wrong aka: wrongful conviction. The Art of Misdirection is taught, not an accident. When the wrong is compliments of advise to avoid or stop a jury trial in progress in order to Take the Plea, the players contribute the alleged wrong to the "system".

With only around 3% to 5% of all criminal cases actually going the distance (all the way to verdict) and the rest being disposed of by way of: fake trials ending with juries being released in order for those on probation at the time of arrest to accept legal advice to take the plea, the 'cost' (taxpayers tab) is of no concern, so why should "cost" be considered by a jury.

The only way to get the public at large to take cost seriously is to constantly show them the money and preferably, way before they end up on juries. Juvies cost around $130K per year and adults cost around $25K or more - guilty or not.

*Anyone know how much it cost the public to put a person on community service with mandatory job placement, monthly fees to the PO, reimbursement & replacement?

Thomas R. Griffith said...

jurors should be informed of the lowest plea bargain offered by the prosecution to the defense pretrial, giving them a baseline to consider for the low end of the punishment range.

Grits, should they also be informed about plea bargain offers made during lunch recess and the reason(s) why the state chose to consider doing so on trial day?

IMHO, if you file Ready for Trial notices, you should be Ready for Trial all the way to a verdict. If you offer less time at any point of the game, that should be a flag to everyone that someone is playing dirty. The judge should never be allowed to allow anyone to Plea Bargain (stop or avoid a jury trial) after the jury has been seated. It sends the wrong message to everyone and taints jurors perception of justice.

Thanks.

Patrick Barkman said...

The only thing that would accomplish would be to have DA's offer even crappier plea bargains than they do now.

diogenes said...

With all the information people want juries to have, it almost seems as if they need a law degree (or similar) before they could begin the trial. How much time will it take to make sure jury members are fully aware of and able to comprehend (versus just being exposed to) information about the criminal justice system and the trial at hand? Will we need to impanel juries for several cases just to be cost effective with this training time? Will we end up with a quasi-professional juror system?

We can't get people to show up for jury duty as it is. How much harder will it be when they find out that they have to sit through several additional hours of what will likely be (to them) mind-numbing and meaningless numbers before they even start the case itself?

Better informed juries would be a good thing (if they are fully informed, not just the info one side of the other wants them to have), but are we prepared for the extra costs required to make this happen?

Anonymous said...

Prosecutors are supposed to work on facts and the Jury is supposed to be one the side of the accused.

Prosecutor must prove the accused guilty without a reasonable doubt.

It is all spelled out in the "Juror's Handbook" which the current justice system does not want people to know, its all about REVENUE.

Anonymous said...

"The only thing that would accomplish would be to have DA's offer even crappier plea bargains than they do now."

Yes, you are correct sir. But, considering that there are and have always been a solution(s) to the Plea Mill fiasco.

When the defense is confronted by the ADA with an offer to dance (participate in the Texas TapOut) vs. allowing the alleged evidence to speak for itself, allowing the jury to perform their duties all the way to verdict and make the Ready for Trial notices worthy, real CDLs tell them to go fuck themselves as the fakers & shakers piss themselves and submit.

I've been there and witnessed it with my own eyes and yes my CDL, was not a CDL at all. He was merely nothing more than a Divorce & Estate specialist advertising himself as one at church that was allowed to dabble in his first felony jury trial with me being his training pad, that ended with the jury being released at lunch recess. Had they been allowed to go the distance, I probably wouldn't be visiting with you here in GFB's front yard.

Thanks.

Anonymous said...

There is no "trial penalty." Rather, if you choose to go to trial you don't receive the guilty plea discount.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@2/16, 5:37, then why not tell jurors what discount was offered? Don't you think that'd be useful information for them?

April Cunningham said...

@Gritsforbreakfast that would be a wonderful ideal. A Denton County jury sentenced my brother to LIFE in prison. At the last pretrial hearing he was offered 5 years deferred sentencing and the one before that he was offered 2 years. I'm all for it... Read more about his case at http://shar.es/1fqp6r

April Cunningham said...

I couldn't agree more. That what my brother thought. A Denton County jury sentenced my brother to LIFE in prison. At the last pretrial hearing he was offered 5 years deferred sentencing and the one before that he was offered 2 years. I'm all for it... Read more about his case at http://shar.es/1fqp6r