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
30 Pages Posted: 15 Dec 2008
Date Written: December 12, 2008
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
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