LIVE DEBATE: Abolish Plea Bargains
The debate is finished. The distribution of the voting points and the winner are presented below.
Winner & statistics
After 1 vote and with 3 points ahead, the winner is...
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- Two days
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- One month
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Resolved: Plea bargaining ought to be abolished in the United States criminal justice system.
This is a LIVE debate
Enjoyed doing this! For anyone looking to vote on this, just note that while the video is long, a lot of the runtime includes follow-up discussion from people with experience in law. Fascinating to hear, but not necessary to vote.
Oh, my apologies. I didn't realize it was an impact. Still, great debate from both of you.
Appreciate the vote and the feedback. Not to influence future voters, but I saw the point about white-collar criminals as an impact of the court clog argument rather than an independent contention. I can understand that I didn't show any obvious link between that and autonomy, though, so the point is well-taken. Haven't done enough LD debate to be all that effective at stringing everything through the value and criterion like I should be.
RFD pt. 3
Con’s case was straightforward too.
His first gripe concerns court clog. For Pro’s point to work, this necessarily must happen. If there is no clog, then prosecutors can’t “pick and choose” which cases to pursue and which ones to abandon. The impacts are myriad, but not all of them are necessarily quantified. They aren’t necessarily refuted either (especially the ones about lost jobs and houses). The public defender point is probably the most devastating for Pro. As Con mentions, public defenders are not entirely efficacious due to their monumental case load (which Pro no doubt adds to). If Pro contends that exercising your right to trial is paramount, then saddling people with overworked and ill-equipped defense teams doesn’t seem in line with the ethos of having a “fair trial” colloquially speaking. Putting aside my observation about Pro’s “right to trial” rhetoric, the harms of overworked indigent counsel are blatant. Pro tries to double down on his “minor offense” point in response, but again, it lacks a substantive causal mechanism.
Con also claims that plea bargains are useful tools for catching co-conspirators and corporate criminals. This point, while not linked to Con’s criterion, delinks Pro’s case from their criterion. Pro necessarily disallows plea bargains even when they would catch ne’er do wells, which violates the principle of proportionality by letting affluent malefactors free. No punishment at all is not proportionate to the corporate crimes described by Con. Plea bargains are also shown to be used on an overwhelming majority of corporate anti-trust cases, so this impact has significant breadth.
Pro, I feel like you need to bring up your case more often. There were lots of potential turns here, and the Alaska evidence was one such example of a potential turn. The third contention, too, could have provided vital offense. But, at the end of the day, I must weigh the significant court clog point higher. Its effects are broad, and it remains relatively unscathed at the end of the day. Moreover, because I buy Con’s criterion, I can see how the choice of plea bargaining relates to autonomy, and crucially, I know why autonomy should matter in the debate.
What really clinched this for me was Pro’s dubious casual mechanism, which is a shame because I really wanted it to function. It has evidence, and it’s something I never considered before. Unfortunately, Con’s scrutiny forces me to doubt its veracity. Had Pro called back to his data and compared his plan to Alaska’s “informal” system of plea bargaining, I think Pro’s case might have won me over. As it stands now, however, Con presents numerous concrete impacts while Pro presents very little offense besides a dropped contention and “it’s coercive,” the latter of which doesn’t carry too much tangible weight and is shown to be non-unique.
Therefore, I must vote Con.
RFD pt. 2
Now I face my own “Hobson’s choice.” It really doesn’t matter for the purpose of this debate, but if I must go with a criterion, I suppose it better be Con’s. I don’t like that part of Con’s case is unlinked from autonomy. That said, Pro never really answered the turn on his criterion, that white-collar criminals become exempt from punishment under Pro’s plan, which isn’t proportional in the least. Moreover, Pro musters a lot of time and energy defending his criterion, a lot of which seems convincing.
Onto the bulk of the cases.
Pro presents straightforward points. His final contention is kind of ignored throughout the debate, but I wouldn’t offer it much weight, to begin with. Sure, proportional punishment grants victims of rape closure and psychological benefits, but how do I weigh this against wait times in prison and fewer people being arrested for minor crimes? In all fairness, Pro claims that people who “get away” with rape by getting a lesser sentence are more likely to re-offend, but this point isn’t quantified, and neither was the point about the psychological effect on rape victims. With little to no mention of this contention later, I am inclined to discount it from the debate. Even if I did consider it, it wouldn’t have been a game-changer.
Pro’s first contention concerned the coercion inherent to plea bargaining. This point is relatively solid, and I especially like the point about innocent people pleading guilty. Con doesn’t really challenge that this happens, so I flow it across the debate. The only problem is that it’s unquantified, so I don’t know how it weighs against the slew of quantified problems proffered by Con.
As for the second contention, I need a causal mechanism for it to function. I understand that prosecutors face a caseload surge that forces their hands, but Con raised a lot of doubt here. Remember, you presented evidence from Alaska. Double down on it when Con rejects this contention.
Con’s refutation was quite potent though. First, Pro became confused about how his mechanism worked. Remember the mechanism is not that police officers change their arrest patterns, it’s that prosecutors pick and choose which cases to take to court, and they’ll inevitably choose cases involving violent crime. Second, Con’s point about how much Pro depends on all the ducks aligning themselves in a row is persuasive. How do we know that prosecutors won’t just wait out the backlog? If they get bonuses for convictions, wouldn’t they convict as many people as possible irrespective of the clogged prisons?
The evidence provided by Pro came from Alaska, and Con successfully showed that plea bargaining continues “informally” in the state. So, maybe the above is nullified. The fact that Pro never mentioned his data after the first round tells me that Pro might have been worried about it being piddled on, but there were responses. If anything, Pro’s plan emulates Alaska’s informal system of plea bargains by preserving the right for people to plead guilty without the formal promise of a reduced sentence.
Here's my RFD pt. 1
I’ll start with framing.
Pro’s and Con’s criteria are essentially white noise in the debate to me. Why? Because so much of both cases skirt around the criteria. I get that Pro’s case relates tenuously to proportionality. It makes sense that marijuana use should not carry with it significant jail time, but then, as Con points out, white-collar criminals getting away scot-free violates this principle of proportionality (which plea bargaining solves for by incentivizing members of organized crime or the corporate elite to “turn” on their miscreant partners), and as Pro himself points out, plea bargains secure lesser (perhaps even “fairer”) sentences.
Con also struggles a little to integrate his criterion and case too. His second contention makes nary a passing mention of autonomy. I’ll grant that the autonomy of alleged offenders is important in the debate, but a criterion is supposed to be a method of achieving your value. If you don’t integrate “autonomy” with justice in both of your contentions, that implies to me that there are better methods with which one can achieve “justice” in this debate. I’m still weighing the 2nd contention in the round, though, since it undermined Pro’s criterion, and because I can vaguely see how it relates to justice as defined by Con. Also, I do feel that Pro, while his objections are mostly answered, is correct when he describes the plea-bargaining system as a “Hobson’s choice.” Indigent defendants don’t have the luxury of decent counsel, so they naturally will plead guilty to avoid an impending sentence since their other option is relying on overworked, underpaid public defenders. I feel like Con bolsters this link story with all his data on how little time public defenders receive to prepare a case.
Con points out that sans the plea bargain option, there is measurably less autonomy in Pro’s world because his advocacy removes a choice that could spell the difference between years of pretrial detention and a reduced sentence. I guess this works as a defense, but it doesn’t address the fact that there is relatively little autonomy in either world. That said, the minute margin of autonomy preserved by Con prevents pretrial detention problems. Con presents myriad impacts, including a loss of employment and housing, all of which link to pretrial detention and autonomy. Con also mentions that external circumstances affect deals all the time in and out of the criminal justice system, so Pro’s objection to his criterion is non-unique.