Punishment Without Trial: Why Plea Bargaining Is a Bad Deal

Carissa Byrne Hessick. Abrams, $27 (288p) ISBN 978-1-4197-5029-8
University of North Carolina law professor Hessick argues in this impassioned critique of the criminal justice system that the right to a trial by jury has largely disappeared in America. According to Hessick, more the 90% of federal cases that aren’t dismissed end in guilty pleas, and the burden falls disproportionately on people of color and the poor, who rely on overworked public defenders and are more likely to take a deal than defendants with higher incomes. In Hessick’s view, the current system of “pressure and pleas”—which commits defendants to pretrial detention, offers lighter sentences for guilty pleas, confiscates money and property from those suspected of crimes, and hides shoddy police work from public scrutiny—has “circumvented most every constitutional and political protection against punishment.” Her solutions include higher dismissal rates for low-level criminal charges; the offering of alternatives to incarceration, such as drug rehabilitation programs, as part of plea bargains; and the establishment of conviction and sentencing integrity units within prosecutors’ offices. Buttressed by copious statistical evidence, harrowing case studies, and in-depth interviews with prosecutors, defense attorneys, and defendants, this is a knowledgeable and persuasive call for change. Agent: Matt Carlini, Javelin. (Oct.)
Reviewed on : 08/30/2021
Release date: 10/01/2021
Genre: Nonfiction
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