If there was one thing the judges on the "Plea Bargains and the Role of Judges” panel could agree upon, it was that judicial discretion is critical to ensuring that defendants receive a fair verdict under the law, including in cases of plea bargains.
The panelpart of the American Constitution Society’s ongoing conventionfeatured U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman of the Eastern District of Wisconsin; Chief U.S. District Judge James Jones of the Western District of Virginia; Chief U.S. District Judge Robert Pratt of the Southern District of Iowa; and Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins. Moderator Cynthia Jones, a professor at American University’s Washington College of Law (and no relation to Judge Jones), fed the panelists a series of law school hypotheticals.
The panelists discussed ways to properly administer plea bargains, including not accepting them if they are being presented to defendants unfairly or the sentence would be unnecessarily high. “Judges can do things sometimes without doing much of anything at all,” said Adelman.
The panelists also discussed ways to reform the plea bargaining system. They suggested reallocating money from pursuing the death penalty to improving the quality of public defenders, allowing more input from judges in the bargaining process, and maintaining a willingness to reject plea bargains that they feel won’t provide true justice.