8 months ago

The good and bad economics of plea bargains

Plea bargains let persons accused of crimes plead guilty and receive reduced charges or a reduced sentence. Although some people find the reduced criminal incentives offensive, this bargaining makes economic sense. But our mass incarceration illustrates a limit of the economic argument.

Our criminal justice system extensively employs pleas; 97% of criminal convictions result from such bargains. Although TV dramas focus on jury trials (and particularly defense lawyers like Matlock or Perry Mason), trials are rare.

Plea bargains make economic sense because trials are costly. Trials require courtrooms, lawyers, judges, court reporters, bailiffs and juries. Witnesses must come to court to testify. A guilty plea saves these costs.

Why should defendants ever plead guilty and willingly agree to go to prison and waive their right to an appeal? A plea deal must offer defendants a better deal than conviction at trial. In a murder case, for example, prosecutors might agree not to seek the death penalty. A plea-bargained conviction ensures at least some punishment for a crime and helps deter crime overall.

This bargaining situation parallels labor strikes. Strikes are costly: workers miss paychecks, factories lie idle and businesses might permanently lose customers. Both labor and management are worse off than if they agreed to the same contract with no strike. Strikes represent bargaining failures.

The economic model of bargaining predicts that plea deals should reflect the strength of the evidence. The prosecution will not give much with an open-and-shut case, but the defense attorney should recognize this and counsel shaving a few years off the sentence. If important evidence gets suppressed or a witness recants their testimony, the shaky case makes prosecutors agree to a reduced charge.

Actual guilt or innocence is secondary in the bargaining model to the likelihood of conviction at trial. While we might hope that innocent defendants always get acquitted, wrongful convictions happen, especially with overworked and underfunded public defenders. An innocent person should consider a deal if they look guilty enough. Emotions, not logic, might explain an innocent person’s refusal to plead guilty. We must move past the fantasy that only a guilty person would ever plead guilty.

Building criminal justice almost exclusively around plea bargaining has negative consequences. These highlight the limits of the economic focus on trial costs. Plea bargains enable incarceration on the American scale, with over 2.3 million persons behind bars as of 2016. Whether you think our current incarceration rate is repressive or responsible for the significant drop in crime over the past three decades, mass incarceration could not happen without low-cost plea bargains. The constitutional right to a speedy trial would be violated without guilty pleas. Conversely, speedy adjudication would require many more judges, trial lawyers, and courtrooms.

Another negative of plea bargaining is adding charges to encourage a deal. This is largely necessary. Suppose that the fair sentence for a crime is ten years. If this is the max sentence at trial, a defendant will only accept a plea for a shorter sentence. Prosecutors need to threaten twenty years to induce a plea to ten years. This practice has received attention in the ongoing college admissions bribery case. Actress Lori Loughlin and the other parents refusing plea deals were recently hit with additional bribery and conspiracy charges.

Finally, pervasive plea bargaining might undermine the quality of criminal evidence generally. Cross-examination uncovers mistakes, lies, and bogus theories, but only at trial. If over 90% of convictions come from pleas, the evidence need only be strong enough to induce a deal, not to withstand cross-examination. Sloppy and faked drug tests in two different Massachusetts crime labs recently led to 47,000 convictions being thrown out. Weak evidence also increases the likelihood of innocent people being accused and forced to plead guilty.

We may wish to blame “the system” for plea bargaining’s problems, but ultimately we fail to provide sufficient resources for more trials. This makes prosecutors coerce pleas, inevitably producing miscarriages of justice. Economists contribute too, by overemphasizing the immediate cost savings from plea bargaining.

Daniel Sutter is the Charles G. Koch Professor of Economics with the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University and host of Econversations on TrojanVision. The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Troy University.

9 hours ago

Sessions makes closing pitch, knocks Tuberville with eight days until election

PIKE ROAD — Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Monday attacked his opponent for connections to a failed hedge fund and made the case that he was the right choice for Alabama Republicans in next week’s primary runoff.

Sessions’ remarks came during a campaign appearance at SweetCreek Farm Market in Pike Road, a suburb to the east of Montgomery. He and his opponent, former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville, compete at the ballot box on July 14 to be the nominee that will take on U.S. Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) in November.

The details of Tuberville’s involvement in a hedge fund that ended in disaster were first printed in the New York Times over the weekend.

“Either he was greedy, incompetent, naive and lacked knowledge; or he actually deliberately participated in an activity that was criminal,” Sessions said Monday about the former coach’s alleged involvement.

606

Tuberville campaign chairman Stan McDonald told the Times that Tuberville’s involvement in the hedge fund “was a big mistake, and he’s paid for it.”

McDonald says the coach was “as surprised as anyone” to learn that his partner in the venture, John David Stroud, was engaging in fraudulent behavior with the money in the fund.

Neither the regulating body in Alabama or Washington, D.C. that oversees hedge funds chose to charge Tuberville with a crime, though a former attorney for Stroud alleged Tuberville had knowledge of the dealings. The Times reported that the coach “was not picking stocks, or even a frequent presence in the office.” Coach Tuberville settled out of court after being sued by investors in the hedge fund and reportedly lost all of the money he invested in the venture.

Sessions also brought up a piece authored by an opinion writer at the Washington Examiner that detailed how Tuberville suspended a player for one game after the individual pleaded guilty a misdemeanor: contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

The incident in question involved Auburn wide receiver Clifton Robinson allegedly having sexual relations with a 15-year-old girl while he was a 20-year-old college student. The young woman involved in the encounter was visiting her sister on Auburn’s campus.

Robinson was initially charged with statutory rape but later pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor and was sentenced to one year of probation and 200 hours of community service.

Tuberville suspended Robinson indefinitely while the charges were being prosecuted as a rape but lessened it to a one-game suspension once prosecutors lowered the charge to a misdemeanor.

Sessions believes that the one-game suspension was insufficient.

“You simply cannot place winning football games ahead of responsibilities to young girls, you can’t put winning football games ahead of teaching important life lessons to young men,” Sessions commented.

“I think he made a mistake,” Sessions said of Tuberville.

At the event in Pike Road, the former senator from Alabama continued to express his frustration with Tuberville for choosing not to participate in a debate.

Sessions alleged that Tuberville “promised Bradley Byrne and I” that he would debate if he made the runoff.

Congressman Bradley Byrne (AL-01) took third place in the initial Republican primary for the U.S. Senate on March 3.

Yellowhammer News asked Seth Morrow, who served as Byrne’s campaign manager, about the alleged promise Sessions talked about on Monday.

Morrow told Yellowhammer that no formal agreement or promise was ever made between the three men to debate in a runoff scenario. Morrow added that he had checked with Byrne himself on Monday to make sure.

Tuberville’s campaign did not immediately return a request for comment about the debate assertion. The campaign has in the past maintained that their declining to debate is a matter of prudent strategy.

Sessions continues to say that Tuberville should “come out of hiding.”

With regards to why he was the right choice for voters, Sessions pointed to his conservative record and said he had “come out of the soil” of Alabama.

Sessions argued that he was a staunch supporter of the American First agenda since before Donald Trump began campaigning for president.

He mentioned that two conservative challengers have recently beaten Trump-endorsed candidates, because in his view, those challengers were more effective than their opponents at communicating their support of the president’s agenda. Sessions believes he will be the next member of that group.

Sessions was asked if it was disappointing to be trailing Tuberville in the polls to try and represent the seat he held for 20 years.

“The voters will decide,” he responded. “The polls have often been in error.”

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95

11 hours ago

Doug Jones to host Dr. Anthony Fauci for Tuesday press conference

U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) has a big-name special guest for his next weekly live-streamed press conference regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jones on Monday announced that National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Director Dr. Anthony Fauci will join him for the remote press conference, to be held Tuesday, July 7, at 11:15 a.m. CT.

Fauci rose to national attention as a leader in the White House’s response to the coronavirus outbreak this spring.

62

Jones’ press conerence can be viewed live on his office’s Facebook page.

Fauci’s public appearances have waned recently compared to earlier in the pandemic.

Recent guests featured in Jones’ press conferences include Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed, Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin and Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

12 hours ago

Dale Jackson: Why won’t the Trump candidate act like Trump?

Are we heading toward a Roy Moore 2.0 (even though he ran like 10 times)?

The media and their Democrats sure hope so. They want Tommy Tuberville as the nominee. They want a blank slate that they can paint however they desire.

Look at the stories about Tuberville’s past that are being floated by national media outlets in the last two weeks of the election.

Keep in mind that this is the GOP oppo research, not Democrats with their deep-pocketed allies and their slim hopes to hang on to a blue seat in a red state.

859

U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) knows that he needs people to vote against the GOP candidate and not for him. This is just a math question at this point.

Can Jones and his allies in the media (national and local) damage his opponent and make people skip the race?

Doubtful, but I bet there are zero surprises in former Senator Jeff Sessions’ (R-AL) record. It’s the main reason so many Republicans are mad at him. They know all about his recusal as U.S. Attorney General and how mad that made President Donald Trump.

Trump wants Tuberville, and Trump may get his way.

But, if Tommy Tuberville is not the Republican nominee after next Tuesday, it will not be the fault of Jeff Sessions, Donald Trump, Clifton Robinson, John David Stroud, the Washington Examiner or the New York Times.

It will be his own fault.

The former football coach has run a campaign for the attention of President Donald Trump while running the least Donald Trump campaign of all time.

The premise that Trump would sit on a lead and run out the clock is absurd, but Tuberville has said that is what he is doing.

Trump wants 10 debates with his opponent, but Tuberville won’t do one.

People say Trump is a counter-puncher, but that is a lie. Trump is an aggressive punch-thrower and is constantly looking to knock his foes out of the fight.

Whether they are worthy of the fight or not, Trump swings away.

Tuberville does not.

When the Washington Examiner brought to the surface a story that has been bubbling on social media and in text messages about a more than 20-year-old allegation that then-coach Tuberville was soft on a player charged with statutory rape, his campaign barely responded.

The most that was mustered in response was from Tuberville campaign chairman Stan McDonald during a weekly appearance on WVNN’s “The Dale Jackson Show,” who said, “It is something that originates from people who are trying to bring Tommy Tuberville down. So, that is not something we’re going to participate in.”

This was a different time in America, obviously, which is why it will get new legs in a 2020 general election.

Is this politics? Yes. Last-minute campaign noise? Obviously. A reason to swallow the whistle? Nope.

When the New York Times reported on a shady hedge fund that Tuberville was involved in, did his campaign respond?

Nope.

There are allegations that Tuberville’s business partner was involved in a massive fraud that saw him sentenced to 10 years in prison, and the Tuberville response was one of weakness.

McDonald and pro-Tuberville Grit PAC employee Brad Presnall both begged off the question by claiming that the coach was just a small-time football coach who didn’t know any better. The big city folks conned him, too.

Tuberville said he was just a swindled pawn, a victim, and he was manipulated.

“They sued me because I invested in it, and he used my name to get other people to put money in,” he stated.

Could you ever see that from Donald Trump? I can’t.

The facts also paint a different story, but not a better one:

But a review of public court records shows that he had a broader role. While he was not picking stocks, or even a frequent presence in the office, Mr. Tuberville made introductions to potential investors, had business cards identifying himself as managing partner, and leased a BMW and got his health insurance through the company. Its offices in Auburn were filled with his coaching memorabilia. In 2010, he traveled to New York with Mr. Stroud to meet potential brokers for the fund, and was kept in the loop on decisions about hiring, according to email traffic.

But what would Trump do here?

Why would the Trumpian candidate sit back and let this all go on around him without firing off a few tweets taking on the New York Times or the fake news media?

Why wouldn’t Tuberville seek out the cameras, which he could summon at any time, to come take his testimony about what really happened?

None of this dooms Tuberville on July 14. Everyone knows he has a lead.

And we all know the media and their Democrats can’t wait to attack Tuberville on these issues, but the idea that Alabama voters will go into a polling place to vote for President Donald Trump in November while also pulling the lever for soon-to-be-former U.S. Senator Doug Jones is laughable.

The real question in all of this is where is Tommy Tuberville, and why isn’t he punching back? Trump supporters want a fighter and an outsider. His huge early lead was indicative of the outsider part, but the fighter part never materialized.

If that is who Tommy Tuberville is, then he needs to get out there and prove it.

Right now he is taking body blows. Maybe he can withstand them, but that is harder to do while sitting on a lead and hoping he can run out the clock.

Listen:

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 AM weekdays on WVNN.

 

13 hours ago

Carl, Coleman lead pre-runoff fundraising in Alabama’s GOP congressional races

The latest fundraising reports have been filed in the respective Republican primary runoffs for the U.S. House of Representatives in Alabama’s First Congressional District and Second Congressional District.

Covering April 1 to June 24, the pre-runoff reports were due by Thursday, July 2 — 12 days ahead of the July 14 election.

Reports filed with the FEC show that Mobile County Commissioner Jerry Carl, running in AL-01, raised $215,740, spent $183,035 and finished the period with $238,925 cash-on-hand.

Meanwhile, his opponent former State Senator Bill Hightower (R-Mobile) reported raising $174,057, spending $192,156 and ending the period with $194,924 on hand.

186

The campaigns have also filed 48-hour notice reports in the subsequent days. These mandatory reports only include donations of $1,000 or more and thus do not include all money raised in a 48-hour window.

Carl reported raising $9,500 from June 25 through July 3, while Hightower reported raising $30,950 during the same timeframe.

In AL-02, Wiregrass businessman Jeff Coleman led in fundraising for the pre-runoff report period.

From April 1 to June 24, Coleman raised $328,502, spent $257,761 and finished the period with $132,054.

In comparison, his opponent former State Rep. Barry Moore (R-Enterprise) brought in $92,343, spent $126,784 and concluded the period with $92,583 on hand.

Moore has not filed any 48-hour notice reports for June 25 through July 3. Coleman reported raising $12,500 during this period.

While in different races, fundraising leaders Carl and Coleman share the same fundraiser: EBW Development.

Hightower and Moore are both backed by Washington, D.C.-based Club for Growth, which has spent large sums for both candidates during the runoff.

RELATED: Tuberville leads Sessions in final fundraising report before July 14 runoff

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

14 hours ago

Tuberville leads Sessions in final fundraising report before July 14 runoff

The latest fundraising reports have been filed in Alabama’s Republican primary runoff for the U.S. Senate.

Covering April 1 to June 24, the pre-runoff reports were due by Thursday, July 2 — 12 days ahead of the July 14 election.

Respective reports filed with the FEC show that former Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville raised $652,389, spent $663,004 and finished the period with $448,204 cash-on-hand.

105

Meanwhile, former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions reported raising $439,734, spending $688,639 and ending the period with $500,331 on hand.

The two campaigns have also filed 48-hour notice reports in the subsequent days. These mandatory reports only include donations of $1,000 or more and thus do not include all money raised in a 48-hour window.

Tuberville reported raising $195,300 from June 25 through July 3, while Sessions reported raising $36,800 during the same timeframe.

The winner of the GOP runoff will go on to face U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) in November.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn