A Life in the Balance: Is There a Right to Plead Guilty Even If it is to Avoid the Death Penalty?

Dickinson Law Review, Vol. 104, p. 409, 2000

Pepperdine University Legal Studies Research Paper

30 Pages Posted: 15 Dec 2008

See all articles by Harry M. Caldwell

Harry M. Caldwell

Pepperdine University - School of Law

Anthony X. McDermott

Independent

Date Written: December 12, 2008

Abstract

This article examines whether there is a right to plead guilty and, assuming such a right, whether the right applies in cases where the prosecution attempts to amend the charge to seek the death penalty. Professors Caldwell and McDermott note that California recognizes a statutory right of defendants to plead guilty in non-capital cases, which magistrates are required to accept with only certain narrow exceptions as determined by the applicable case law (People v. Hall, Cronk v. Municipal Court, and People v. Reza). They then compare the applicable laws in Massachusetts, Florida, and New York, and provide an anlysis of the competing policy goals of the prosecution's discretion in charging and the accused's right to plead. Prosecutors have broad discretion in making charges, allowing them to consider special facts and circumstances not taken into account by the applicable rules. To ensure such individualized justice, prosecutors should be permitted to push back the charging decision as far as possible in capital cases to gain optimum knowledge and perspective. However, such a practice risks that a defendant will plead early to a non-capital murder charge. Professors Caldwell and McDermott conclude by suggesting a modification to existing California law in order to allow greater flexibility for prosecutors in making capital-filing decisions.

Keywords: plead, pleading, criminal, guilty, death penalty, prosecutor, discretion, capital case, capital murder, charge, capital filing

Suggested Citation

Caldwell, Harry M. and McDermott, Anthony X., A Life in the Balance: Is There a Right to Plead Guilty Even If it is to Avoid the Death Penalty? (December 12, 2008). Dickinson Law Review, Vol. 104, p. 409, 2000; Pepperdine University Legal Studies Research Paper. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1315445

Harry M. Caldwell (Contact Author)

Pepperdine University - School of Law ( email )

24255 Pacific Coast Highway
Malibu, CA 90263
United States

Anthony X. McDermott

Independent

No Address Available

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