Summary: Pleading Out: How Plea Bargaining Creates a Permanent Criminal Class

Pleading Out by Dan Canon"Pleading Out: How Plea Bargaining Creates a Permanent Criminal Class" by Dan Canon is a thought-provoking and well-researched book that explores the controversial practice of plea bargaining in the American criminal justice system. The book provides a comprehensive analysis of the historical context, legal framework, and social implications of this practice, arguing that plea bargaining perpetuates social inequality and creates a permanent criminal class.

Canon begins by tracing the origins of plea bargaining in the United States, noting that the practice has become increasingly prevalent since the early 20th century. He explains that plea bargaining is a process by which prosecutors offer defendants a reduced sentence or charge in exchange for a guilty plea, circumventing the need for a trial. This practice has become the norm, with over 90% of criminal convictions in the US resulting from plea bargains.

The author then delves into the legal and ethical issues surrounding plea bargaining. Canon argues that the process is inherently coercive, as defendants often feel pressured to accept a deal due to the fear of facing a much harsher sentence if they go to trial and lose. This pressure can lead innocent people to plead guilty to crimes they did not commit, just to avoid the risk of a more severe punishment. Canon also highlights that plea bargaining undermines the constitutional right to a fair trial, as it allows prosecutors to avoid the scrutiny of a jury.

In examining the social consequences of plea bargaining, Canon presents compelling evidence that this practice disproportionately impacts marginalized communities. He argues that low-income individuals and people of color are more likely to be offered and accept plea bargains, leading to a cycle of criminalization that exacerbates existing social inequalities. Furthermore, Canon demonstrates that the collateral consequences of a criminal conviction, such as difficulty finding employment, housing, or accessing public benefits, create a permanent underclass of people who are unable to break free from the cycle of poverty and crime.

The book also discusses how the current system of plea bargaining benefits certain stakeholders within the criminal justice system. Prosecutors gain leverage by being able to secure convictions without the time and resources needed for a trial, while public defenders, who are often overwhelmed with caseloads, can resolve cases more quickly. However, Canon argues that this efficiency comes at the expense of justice and fairness for the accused.

Canon proposes several potential reforms to the plea bargaining system. These include reducing the power disparity between prosecutors and defendants, increasing funding and resources for public defenders, implementing standardized plea offer guidelines, and promoting greater transparency and oversight of the plea bargaining process. He emphasizes that these reforms should be considered as part of a broader effort to overhaul the criminal justice system and address the underlying issues of poverty, racism, and social inequality that contribute to crime.

In conclusion, "Pleading Out: How Plea Bargaining Creates a Permanent Criminal Class" is a compelling and well-researched book that sheds light on the flaws and injustices of the American plea bargaining system. Through historical context, legal analysis, and social implications, Canon exposes the coercive nature of plea bargaining and its role in perpetuating social inequality. The book serves as a call to action for policymakers, legal professionals, and concerned citizens to address the issues presented and advocate for meaningful reforms in pursuit of a more just and equitable criminal justice system.


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