Instigator / Con

Resolved: In the US, plea bargaining ought to be abolished


The debate is finished. The distribution of the voting points and the winner are presented below.

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After 6 votes and with 14 points ahead, the winner is...

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Three days
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Contender / Pro

Round Structure. I will cede the first round so that Pro can go first.
I will offer my constructive, and then we will alternate between Pro and Con until the final round, in which Pro is required to waive.

Other than that, standard rules apply.
In other words, don't post new args in the final round. Don't be a di**.

That's about it.

Round 1
Per the rules, I waive this round.
Thanks to blamonkey for this debate! I affirm the resolution that plea bargaining out to be abolished in the United States. Let’s first define our terms: 

Plea Bargaining - an arrangement between a prosecutor and a defendant whereby the defendant pleads guilty to a lesser charge in the expectation of leniency.

Ought - used to indicate duty or correctness, typically when criticizing someone's actions.

Abolished - formally put an end to (a system, practice, or institution).


Major policy debates such as this should be evaluated on the framework of consequentialism, the framework where we judge the an actions of a proposed rule by evaluating the impacts they have on the people. 

Value Premise: Justice 

What is justice? The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines justice as “the maintenance or administration of what is just especially by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments.” In order for there to be true justice, several things must be true: (1) the defendant was his full constitutional and legal rights; and (2) the punishment must be in direct proportion to the crime that was committed. If a person committed mass murder, I’m sure my opponent would agree that a 1 year prison sentence would not be just. I’m sure that my opponent would also agree then a 50 year sentence for petty shoplifting would be disproportionate (assuming that this was the accused’s first offense). With that in mind, let’s get to my plan. 

The Plan

Plea bargaining will be banned and prosecutors will no longer have the ability to coerce a defendant to plea guilty by enticing them with a more lenient sentence. However, the accused party will still have the right to plea guilty, but will no longer have any incentive to do so. 

C1: Plea bargaining prevents justice

One of the criteria that I established in evaluating justice is the doctrine of proportionality, that the sentence should be in direct proportion to the crime that the party committed. When a defendant encouraged by the state to plea guilty and get a reward, two things happen, (1) the doctrine of proportionality is compromised; and (2) miscarriage of justice is often inevitable. Let’s begin by going more in-depth.

A. The innocent 

Defendants are in a very vulnerable situation and will often plea guilty even though they are completely innocent. Those who cannot afford bail and do not want to wait 6 months for the trial will almost certainly plea guilty just to get it over with. According to the innocent project at least 31 people plead guilty to serious crimes like rape and murder to avoid long sentences and to avoid trial. These innocent people served a combined total of 150 years in prison [1]. In the case of Robby Ray Dixon they pled guilty to a 1979 Mississippi rape and murder they didn’t commit. After the two men were threatened with the death penalty, they testified against a third innocent defendant (ibid). 

The innocent project further breaks down some alarming statistics: 95% of felon convections are convicted through plea bargaining, 18% of those exonerated plead guilty, and 83% of DNA tests pointed to a different perpetrator (2).

If innocent people are forced to plea guilty to serious crimes they didn't commit, how many more are convicted on petty crimes and misdemeanors? That number really cant be known, but it's quite a scary probability. 

B. The Guilty 

For those who truly are guilty, bargaining is to their benefit by avoiding trial and getting a super lenient sentences or some serious charges simply dropped. The Human Rights Watch founded the following statistics [2]:

  • Defendants convicted of drug offenses with mandatory minimum sentences who went to trial received sentences on average 11 years longer than those who pled guilty (215 versus 82.5 months).
  • Among first-time drug defendants facing mandatory minimum sentences who had the same offense level and no weapon involved in their offense, those who went to trial had almost twice the sentence length of those who pled guilty (117.6 months versus 59.5 months).
  • Among defendants who were eligible for a sentencing enhancement because of prior convictions, those who went to trial were 8.4 times more likely to have the enhancement applied than those who plead guilty.
  • Among drug defendants with a weapon involved in their offense, those who went to trial were 2.5 times more likely to receive consecutive sentences for §924(c) charges than those who pled guilty.

Thus in summary, plea bargains significantly undermine the integrity of the justice system, as Dr. Kaiser noted [3]:

Plea bargaining undermines the integrity of the criminal justice system. Instead of establishing a defendant’s guilt and sentence though an impartial process with a complete investigation and an opportunity for the defence to present its case, prosecutors take on the role of judge and jury, making all determinations based on the probability of whether they will win or lose at trial. The end result is a decision that has little to do with the primary objectives of the criminal justice system.

C2: Plea bargains are unnecessary 

Among those who argue that abolishing plea bargains would clog up the courts, research has found the exact opposite. According to my plan, guilty pleas would still be permitted. When Alaska abolished plea bargaining, the National Institute of Justice found that “guilty pleas continued to flow in at nearly undiminished rates. Most defendants pled guilty even when the state offered them nothing in exchange for their cooperations.” [4]  


Plea bargaining is an unnecessary perversion of justice. By encouraging innocent people to plea guilty and letting guilty people off the hook, plea bargains pervert justice. Therefore, plea bargains ought to be abolished. 


Round 2
Thank you for the debate. For the record, I don't plan on refuting this round.


The University of Texas defines Consequentialism as the ethical theory that judges whether something is right or wrong based off the consequences of said action (1). Prefer this framework because assigning a moral value to an action is meaningless in policy making. Government instead focuses on protecting the constituency and guaranteeing that the fundamental rights of people are ensured. The government, as the sole actor that facilitates the plea bargain system and allows it to occur, is the resolution’s actor. Ergo, assigning the same value system that a government uses to help its people is an appropriate choice.
C1: Increased Reliance on Public Defenders
Plea bargaining is an ever-present facet of the criminal justice system. The Atlantic in September 2017 explains that over 90% of both state and federal cases end in plea deals in the US (2). A primary factor causing the abundance of plea bargains is the wealth of inmates. The Prison Policy Initiative in 2015 found that the median income for state-prison inmates between the ages of 27 and 42 was about $19,000 annually (3). Compared to the income for non-incarcerated people in the same age range, (which is roughly $32,000 a year), defendants are typically poorer, and rely on public defenders (3). However, public defenders are known to have excessive caseloads that prevent them from providing adequate defense for their destitute clients. The DOJ in 2007 reported that over 70% of county public defender offices exceeded the maximum recommended limit of cases, (the limit being 150 felonies or 400 misdemeanors) (4). As a result of immense caseloads, public defenders in Detroit, Atlanta, and New Orleans, on average, have under an hour to prepare their cases before going to trial (11). Plea bargaining is a necessary tool for public defenders to help low-income clients serve less time for minor crimes. Human Rights Watch reports in 2013 that federal drug defendants typically received less than a third of the sentence that a trial defense would reap (5). The use of plea bargaining by public defenders could also be contributed to public defenders’ lack of experience defending clients in court. The Guardian reports in September of 2016 that in Louisiana, historic, statewide lack of funding led to many parishes selecting people with any type of law degree, regardless of experience, to represent clients (6). Matters are complicated further by the lack of pay that public defenders are paid, pushing many to the private market where they are better compensated, prompting high job turnover in public defender offices. The Bureau of Labor Statistics confirms the unbalanced distribution of wages, with private attorney’s earning, on average, over $100,000 a year (9). Compare this to the median, entry-level wage of public defenders which is $46,000 according to the National Association for Law Placement (10). Florida experienced the effects of turnover in 2017, as it saw one-fifth of prosecutors and public defenders leave their positions in favor of higher-paying firms (7).
Without plea-bargaining, defendants will spend more time in prison for minor drug crimes and misdemeanors because we force underpaid, overworked, and unskilled public defenders to take on cases that they cannot prepare. This enforces classism into American society, as poor defendants are less likely to receive favorable sentences while the rich buy their way out of punishment. The government’s role is protecting all their citizenry, not just the rich, will not be fulfilled in an affirmative world.
C2: Worsens Prison Conditions Due to Overcrowding
Because plea bargaining often decreases the time that people serve in jail, it plays a vital role in decreasing lengthy sentences, and thus mitigating the growth of inmate populations.
Rising prison populations have necessitated budget hikes for the Bureau of Prisons. The Congressional Research Service in January of 2018 explains that funding increased from 1980 until 2016 by $7 billion, mostly to staff prisons with enough people to look after the inmate population (12). With 2.3 million people in prison, these budget hikes are understandable (13). Despite the BOP’s steadily increasing budget, the money is still not enough to maintain or fix prison infrastructure. The Government Accountability Office states that the BOP faces a current backlog of more than 220 major repair and replacement projects, including fences, fire alarms, and roofs (14). A lack of staffing coupled with poor prison conditions has previously led to outbreaks of violence. The Federal Times projects that the prisoner to worker ratio is 5 to 1. These numbers are conservatively estimated, as the article points out that included in the total are teachers, cooks, etc. that sometime fill in security roles without qualifications (20). Staffing and structural concerns are also compounded by the lack of access to education and medical treatment, as the GAO reports that prisons have enacted waitlists for these services. The UPenn Wharton Center highlights one of the many issues related to medical care in prisons when they show that in 35 states, prisoners must pay medical copays before receiving service, often paid from family contributions and their own prison work. Pay for prison work can be as low as 12 cents an hour (16). The lack of staffing coupled with poor prison conditions has culminated in one group of inmates in 2017 in Delaware taking over the prison and taking 4 correctional officers hostage according to the US News and World Report (15).

Because plea bargains often reduce the amount of time served in prison, inmates normally on minor changes can get out of prison quicker than if they went to trial. By getting rid of the plea-bargaining system, however, we worsen prison conditions with more wear and tear on prison infrastructure. The government does not fulfill its role as a protector of the people through this policy, ergo, negate.

C3: Court Clog
Over 90% of felony cases at the state and federal level are decided with plea bargains (2); as a result, we can expect masses of people waiting in cells for their case to be heard when court resources are strained with a surplus of cases. El Paso, one of the few municipalities that have banned plea bargaining, (at least, on the books,) saw the amount of cases litigated in court jump considerably to a little over 40%, double that of previous years when the ban was not in place (17). Backlogged cases have accumulated due to the increased amount of trials. Between the 2 courts studied in El Paso, according to Professor Wenninger of Texas Tech University, the ban more than tripled active criminal cases, to the point that the city had to undergo serious reforms to accommodate the caseload (17). Over 400,000 of Americans already sit in pretrial detention because they cannot afford bail, costing taxpayers $15 billion dollars every year (18). Moreover, across all crimes, pretrial detention is increasing in length. Depending on the felony case, a defendant could face anywhere between 50 and 200 days in jail before their trial comes to court (18).
The judicial system without plea bargaining would force more people to stay in pretrial detention for longer, costing taxpayers an egregious sum on account of court clog. This not only costs taxpayer money, it also interrupts the lives of countless Americans without the ability to pay the hefty bail cost (roughly $11,000 dollars according to the Hamilton Institute) because they are forced to wait in cells while their employers terminate their contract (18). Shima Baughman of the University of Utah wrote for the Boston University Law Review, estimating that those in pretrial detention, through the loss of property, (happening in roughly 23% of cases of people in pretrial detention,) and lost wages, face a cost of $6,000 dollars (19). This doesn’t just present a cost to the affected families, but to society as well. The US is an economy that primarily relies on consumption for most of its output. Falling disposable income prevents people from spending money on firms, who are the subsequent victims of falling aggregate demand. These societal and personal costs only erode the rights of poor Americans who can’t buy their way out of pretrial detention.


Thank you, Blamonkey, for the speedy reply! Given that we both have the same ethical framework, the voters should judge based upon which plan has the best consequences for the criminal justice system. With that in mind, I now rebut my con’s opening case.

Re C1/C3: Increased reliance on public defense / Court Clog

Both of these arguments are interrelated and my rebuttals are interrelated so I will address them both at the same time. First, Con makes a significant error in assuming that all cases will go to trial. Recall that my plan allows for guilty pleas but would abolish the bargaining process in which a defended is coerced in pleading guilty.  Second, we need to look at the cause of a huge work load and court clog. Plea bargains enable the mass incarceration and the massive workload on the court system. By abolishing plea bargaining, we would actually force the government to make much needed reforms. Danny Weil notes [1]:

As long as plea bargains are used as a club to coerce defendants into abdicating their right of the constitutional guarantee to a fair trial, the prison-industrial complex will continue to grow exponentially. Plea bargains are one big woodpile that serves to fuel the ever-expanding prison-industrial complex, rendering transparent the American political resolve to incarcerate more and more people even if it means bankrupting their municipalities, cutting education and devoting their budgets to subsidizing the for-profit prison industry. If this resolve represents the mens rea (criminal intent) of the political will for mass incarceration, then plea bargaining can be said to represent the actus reus, the physical act of carrying out the industrial carceral state. If plea bargains were eliminated, or even severely monitored and reduced, the states and the federal government would then be required to carry out their burden under the constitution of proving the guilt of a criminal defendant in accordance with the law. If this happened, there would be a whopping reduction in prosecutions, not to mention incarcerations. Such a shift would be an important step in ending the current carceral culture of mass confinement and cruelty. Michelle Alexander, a civil rights lawyer and bestselling author of the book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, recently wrote in The New York Times that in her phone call with Susan Burton, a formerly incarcerated woman who took a plea bargain for drug use, Burton asked: What would happen if we organized thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of people charged with crimes to refuse to play the game, to refuse to plea out? What if they all insisted on their Sixth Amendment right to trial? Couldn't we bring the whole system to a halt just like that? Believe me, I know. I'm asking what we can do. Can we crash the system just by exercising our rights? Burton has the right to ask this question. It took her 15 years after pleading to a drug charge to get her life back together. The organization she recently started, A New Way of Life, offers a much-needed lifeline to women released from prison. But it does much more than this: it is also helping to start a movement against plea bargaining and the restoration of the constitution as it applies to citizens. All of Us or None is another such group that is organizing formerly incarcerated people and encouraging them to demand restoration of their basic civil and human rights. But the question Burton asks remains: could criminal defendants really crash the system if they demanded their constitutional rights and refused to plea to crimes they did not commit? From the point of view of American University law professor Angela J. Davis, the answer is yes. The system of mass industrial incarceration is entirely dependent on the cooperation of those it seeks to control. If everyone charged with crimes suddenly exercised their constitutional rights, then there would not be enough judges, lawyers or prison cells to deal with the flood tide of litigation. As Davis notes, not everyone would have to join for the revolt to have an impact: "if the number of people exercising their trial rights suddenly doubled or tripled in some jurisdictions, it would create chaos." The entire carceral system is riddled with corruption and broken beyond comprehension. Davis and Burton might be right: crashing the judicial system by refusing to get roughhoused into phony plea bargain deals could be the most responsible route to cleaning up the courts and restoring constitutional rights. It is daunting, and it takes guts, but with more than 90 percent incarcerated for plea bargains, it is courage we need. One thing we do know: there are many people falsely accused of crimes doing time in for-profit American gulags, and many more waiting to replace them. This situation might be good for the for-profit prison system and a few major stockholders but it spells Dante's Inferno for those forced to take the plea, as Alford, Banks, Burton and far too many others know.

Indeed, the vast majority of court trials are related to drugs. If the US government decriminalized drug possession and adopted the Portugal model, where ALL drugs are decriminalized, the number of trials and court clogs would drop exponentially. And that’s a good thing. Public defenders are often overburdened because of these types of trials and are often denied access to essential resources as Alan J. Gocha Notes here [2]:

The plea bargain regime is at odds with traditional notions of fairness, justice, and truth.24 Unlike trials which are public, involve legal community outsiders, and have expansive constitutional substantive and procedural protections-plea-bargaining "take[s] place in the shadow of the law, largely immune to judicial review, with minimal and under-enforced oversight. 25 Prosecutors have virtually unlimited discretion in determining when to dismiss a case, offer a plea, or proceed to trial. 26 When a plea deal is obtained, it rarely is the result of a meaningful two-sided negotiation. "Prosecutors have the clear and undeniable upper hand...they can overcharge, leverage overbroad laws, exploit the information imbalance, wear down the defendant with (often extended) pre-trial incarceration...", and threaten to abuse draconian sentencing guidelines. 28 The reasonableness of a plea offer is contingent on a number of factors, but ultimately, two similarly situated defendants may face vastly different penalties depending on how sympathetic or antagonistic a particular prosecutor is to a given defendant or victim.29 Thus, broad and unmonitored discretion both allows for, and inhibits detection of, the discriminatory application of criminal laws.30 In its current form, the plea bargain regime grants prosecutors the unshackled authority to perpetuate systematic inequality. 31 These injustices are further compounded when a defendant is poor ("80 percent of defendants are indigent and thus unable to hire a lawyer").32 Public defenders are commonly denied access to essential resources along with being burdened by excessive caseloads.33 As a result, many defendants are pressured into accepting a plea deal after speaking with their attorney for only a few minutes-a practice disparagingly known as "meet em' and plead em’".

Finally Megan McArdle notes [3]: 

The justice system is no longer set up to provide an innocent man his day in court. It is a machine for producing plea bargains in industrial quantities. It can operate no other way, because the volume of cases is far larger than the court system can actually handle. So instead of trials that take a long time and cost a lot of money but ideally separate the guilty from the innocent, we have become dependent on an assembly line where the accused go in at one end and come out the other a (relatively) short time later -- as convicted criminals, regardless of their guilt or innocence, but with shorter sentences than they would have faced if convicted at trial and with smaller lawyers’ bills than they would have faced if they had gone to trial. As this suggests, there are real benefits to the plea-bargaining system, even for the defendants. But there is a drawback as well. In 1979, law professor Malcolm Freeley published “The Process Is the Punishment,” a book in which he used the lens of the New Haven, Connecticut, court system to show the ways in which the trial itself -- as separate from any sentence imposed -- can function to punish people. This can be a problem even if the defendant turns out to be guilty, but at least we have the option of compensating for this extra-judicial punishment by reducing the formal sentence. But when the system gets out of control, it produces Kafkaesque results even for guilty defendants: How many of us think that three years behind bars is the right sentence for the theft of a backpack? And of course, when the defendant is innocent, this jail term is not merely excessive, but something close to a crime itself. This is not what the machine was designed to produce. The most obvious way to begin repairing this broken system is to spend more money building courtrooms and hiring judges, so that defendants actually do have a chance at their constitutionally guaranteed right to a speedy trial. We should also take a long, hard look at the number of things that are crimes, and the sentencing laws that require many crimes be requited with very harsh penalties. Most our mass incarceration problem is a sentencing problem, driven by both mandatory minimums and prosecutors who are rewarded for being “tough on crime.” 1 These factors aggravate the flaws of the plea-bargaining system. Prosecutors can threaten to prosecute on draconian charges, which carry draconian sentences -- and all but force a defendant, even an innocent one, to take a plea bargain, with a lesser charge and a lesser sentence. Defendants (guilty and innocent alike) usually conclude that the risk of going to trial is simply too great. And the plea bargains, in turn, keep the machine from choking on the volume of cases being run through it. Instead it grinds out a very poor substitute for justice. Reducing the number of laws and reducing the ability (or requirement) for prosecutors to secure serious jail time for so many offenses would reduce mass incarceration and start to unclog our court system.

Re C2: Worsens Prison Conditions Due to Overcrowding

Once again we need to look at the cause of the overcrowding and worsening prison conditions. Hint: It’s related to the above response. If drugs and victimless “crimes” were decriminalized, our jails and prisons would be less overcrowded and prosecutors and judges would be able to solve real crimes that have real impacts in the community. We ought to abolish pre-trial detention for low risk defendants who have not gone to trial and significantly reform the bail system. The Penal Reform International institute notes [4]: 

Pre-trial detention undermines the chance of a fair trial and the rule of law in a number of ways. The majority of people who come into contact with criminal law know little about their rights. Many countries do not have an adequate legal aid system, and many people cannot afford to pay for a lawyer. Even when they can, it is much harder to prepare well for a trial in a prison cell.

The pre-trial stage (from arrest to trial) of the criminal justice process is also particularly prone to corruption. Unhindered by scrutiny or accountability, police, prosecutors, and judges may arrest, detain, and release individuals based on their ability to pay bribes.

Pre-trial detention has a hugely damaging impact on defendants, their families and communities. Even if a person is acquitted and released, they may still have lost their home and job. They face the stigma of having been in prison when they return to the community.

Because of its severe and often irreversible negative effects, international law states that pre-trial detention should be the exception rather than the rule and that if there is a risk, for example, of a person absconding, then the least intrusive measures possible should be applied. A range of non-custodial measures are available, including bail, confiscation of travel documents, reporting to police or other authorities, and submitting to electronic monitoring or curfews.

Once again, abolishing plea bargaining would force the government to make these reforms. 


Applying the framework of consequentialism, my case got a lot stronger. Con highlighted some significant flaws within the justice system. If we abolish plea bargaining, the government would be forced to make significant reforms that would fix the issues that Con brought up and would restore our constitutional rights. 

Please vote pro. Thank you. 


I also want to thank Premier Debates for their brief on this particular topic! They have been a huge help in crafting my rebuttals in this round. 
Round 3
Thank you for the response! I am going to run through my case first before addressing Pro’s.

Increased reliance on public defense / Court Clog

2 arguments are made at the beginning of Pro’s previous round. First, he states that guilty pleas would not be eliminated, meaning not all cases would go to trial according to his plan 

Pro declares his plan as such:

“Plea bargaining will be banned and prosecutors will no longer have the ability to coerce a defendant to plea guilty by enticing them with a more lenient sentence. However, the accused party will still have the right to plea guilty, but will no longer have any incentive to do so.”

If a hypothetical defendant has no incentive to plead guilty, why would they? I already provided evidence from Professor Wenninger of Texas Tech University where he shows that El Paso’s caseload increased 2-fold as a result of the ban on plea bargains in the municipality (5). Sans any evidence to the contrary, it is safe to assume that there will be an increase in litigation.

The other argument mentioned by Pro is that as a result of eliminating plea bargaining, the government will end the war on drugs to accommodate ludicrous caseloads. Note that this is not part of any formal “case.” He is stating that banning plea bargains brings about this type of reform.
The general principle which this argument relies on is that, after plea bargains are eliminated, the government will wave its magic wand and necessarily halt arrests for non-violent drug offenses. Pro cites Danny Weil, who advocates for people arrested en masse to use their right to a free trial after the plea-bargaining system is ended to clog the court systems and force the government to commute their sentences. This is a direct quote from what my opponent cited in his rebuttal:

“…could criminal defendants really crash the system if they demanded their constitutional rights and refused to plea to crimes they did not commit?
…the answer is yes. The system of mass industrial incarceration is entirely dependent on the cooperation of those it seeks to control. If everyone charged with crimes suddenly exercised their constitutional rights, then there would not be enough judges, lawyers or prison cells to deal with the flood tide of litigation.”

From this, my opponent implies that the government would legalize drug possession to mirror the Portugal model.

I have a few responses.

First, there is no guarantee that the government would react by legalizing drug possession. Despite legalization efforts, drug arrests have increased steadily in recent years. The Drug Policy Alliance illustrates how in 2016, there were 1.57 million people arrested on drug violations, or one every 20 seconds (1). This is a marked increase from previous years. Despite support from the public, the government seems to be dragging its feet on getting rid of laws that criminalize drug use. Oftentimes, firms will lobby to prevent legalization efforts to maintain their profit margin. CoreCivic, a private prison industry, spent over $1 million dollars in anti-legalization lobbying in 2014 alone (2). Profitable pharmaceutical firms also spend lavishly on countering legalization efforts. The producers of Fentanyl spent half-a-million dollars toward defeating a ballot initiative in Arizona that would allow for the recreational use of Marijuana (3). The quid-pro-quo system in Washington creates incentives for lawmakers to essentially take bribes and offer laws or contracts in return. A year-long analysis from the Sunlight Foundation on 200 of America’s most politically active corporations found that combined, the corporations spent nearly $6 billion dollars. These companies were compensated handsomely, receiving a combined $4.4 trillion dollars in federal business and support (4). If lawmakers are actively seeking the support of corporations to fund their election and reelection campaign, (which is never not happening,) then is it feasible for so many in Congress to stop taking funds and kill the very industries that allowed them to rise to prominence? I would say no.

Current support for marijuana legalization is obvious. However, scrapping all laws targeting non-violent offenders would take expert political maneuvering against what the people in the US want. Vox conducted a poll on 2,000 eligible voters and found that support for the legalization of cocaine, meth, heroin, LSD, and mushrooms was non-existent (6). Despite high arrest rates for marijuana, there has been little attention paid to the chunk of non-violent offenders ingesting other types of drugs. Marijuana arrests account for about 40% of all drug arrests, but do not represent all drug arrests (1).

I understand that my opponent thinks that the change is inevitable, but it is not tenable to merely assert that this path will be followed as a result of a new policy. Not only will lobbying hamper legalization efforts, but America isn’t on board with eliminating all non-violent drug offenses. In fact, we have only discussed thus far the potential for drug offenses, which isn’t even considering crimes such as loitering or camping in public that overwhelmingly target homeless Americans. It takes more than a single bill to do what Pro wants. All the while, pundits try to find solutions to inevitable overcrowding scares as a result of the plea bargain ban, people will sit idly in prison. They will have reduced job prospects, income, and property as a result. The legislative process moves slowly, as does social change. Even if, as a result of a plea bargain, there is legislation commuting all sentences for non-violent crimes and purging all laws that target non-violent criminals, there would be an immense amount of time and money spent on such a bill. It is up to Pro to prove that this would happen anyway, so I leave it to him to do so.

Worsens Prison Conditions Due to Overcrowding

As far as asserting that drug legalization will miraculously fix all our problems that banning plea bargaining will create, look above for my response.
My opponent asserts that:

“…abolishing plea bargaining would force the government to make these reforms.”

These reforms include the elimination of pretrial detention for “low-risk defendants” and policies which will “significantly reform the bail system.”
 “Reform” is a nebulous term that could refer to a vast array of policy options. Who is a “low-risk” defendant who is unlikely to skip town and not go to trial? How would we quantify this likelihood, and who would be the actor in this plan? Also, how do we know that the government will specifically make these reforms? I was originally going to post a lot of text suggesting that the US government will not go through with this plan, but now I am just going to ask straight up:

Where is your evidence suggesting that as a result of banning the plea-bargaining system, the government will necessarily fix pretrial detention? Without it, this point has no impact. Instead, people will suffer more while we wait for these promised reforms to come about if we ban plea bargaining.

Onto my opponent’s case.

Plea bargaining prevents justice

Pro purports that by eliminating the plea-bargaining system, innocent people are less likely to be charged for crimes they didn’t commit via the plea bargain, while guilty clients receive unfair sentences. Remember that public defenders are often the ones using plea deals to secure a lessened sentence for their indigent client. If they were forced to bring a trial to court, they would be unprepared. The case would end with their client receiving a worse sentence. Cross-apply my evidence concerning their caseload and time spent on each case (8) (9).

Plea bargains are unnecessary 

Pro alleges that Alaska, after eliminating the plea bargain, faced zero court clog. Perhaps this is true, but it would be a spurious allegation to maintain that Alaska’s so-called “success” could be emulated elsewhere. It couldn’t happen in El Paso per the evidence in my constructive case, as the backlog of criminal cases tripled as a result of the plea bargain ban (5).

Despite Alaska’s ban, plea bargains continued unabated. Alaska’s Judicial Council in 1991 found that despite the ban in Alaska, over half of convicted criminal defendants pled guilty and had at least one charge dismissed or altered (10). In other words, there was no solvency.

Alaska also experienced fewer than 200 felony cases a year due to its sparse population according to researchers from Rutgers University (11).



Thanks for a fantastic debate. I have thoroughly enjoyed this discussion and I hope the voters have as well. This is my final speech and so I will simply summarize the debate and give strong reasons as to why you should vote for pro. To make the rounds fair, I will defend my arguments only. I think both of us should use this round as a brief summary and overview. 


Both my opponent and I have agreed to the consequentialist framework. If abolishing plea bargaining has better consequences for the justice system, then you must vote pro. With that, let’s go to some voting issues

Value Criteria

My opponent fails to challenge my value and criteria. Recall that my two criteria are that the defendant must be given his full constitutional and legal rights; and that the punishment must be in proportion to the crime. Therefore, we must look at justice through the lenses of these two criteria. 

Defense C1: Perversion of Justice

I have given several real life cases of innocent people who plead guilty to serious crimes to avoid the death penalty and more serious punishment, my opponent fails to even acknowledge this or respond to this; moreover, I have given several real life cases and statistics where there is a significant difference in sentencing between those who plea guilty and the ones who go to trial. Therefore we must conclude that one of those sentences is grossly disproportionate to the crime. Thus we conclude that plea bargaining perverts the criteria of justice. This point alone is enough to vote for the affirmative. 

Defense C2: Bargaining is unnecessary 

My opponent asks why a hypothetical defendant would plea guilty if they have no incentive to do so. The answer is obviously to get the trial over with. The evidence and examples I provided shows that defendants plea guilty even when there is no incentive to do so. 

Conclusion of the debate

I strongly urge a vote for the affirmative. The evidence I have provided shows that plea bargaining perverts justice (unchallenged) and that it directly feeds the mass incarceration problem that we have. 


Round 4
Thank you for the debate! We should have discussed the defense thing before. That is ok though.

Dropped Arguments

Pro drops every single one of his arguments which purportedly show how abolishing plea-bargaining leads to reforms in the criminal justice system. In other words, those impacts are completely excised from the debate. He previously conceded that his framework is consequentialism, regardless of the value-criterion he offered. If we judge the debate by the offense presented by each side, my opponent loses a lot of tangible impacts through this concession. Without promised reform which would decrease sentences for nonviolent criminals, backlogs will certainly develop.


Both me and my opponent subscribe to consequentialism, where we determine the weight of the arguments through the net consequences which they produce. This is standard in policy debates.

Voting Issue #1: Public Defenders’ Caseloads

I would like to remind the judges that public defenders would be burdened with excessive caseloads should plea bargaining be banned. Public defenders, who help indigent defendants, often use plea bargains to decrease their client’s sentence. My Texas Tech University evidence recounts that litigation increased 3-fold after plea bargaining was banned in El Paso (2). Public defenders cannot offer any good defense of their client if they have little time to prepare a case and an already massive caseload as I already shown (1). Without a competent defense counsel, the hypothetical client pleading guilty to avoid the death penalty will face capital punishment because their defense team is inadequate. We further pervert justice through eliminating plea bargaining, and egregiously prolong sentences for nonviolent criminals, which is disproportionate punishment. It is unreasonable to not provide competent defense for the poor and allow for more innocent people to face guilty sentences due to the government’s inability to provide decent defense.

Voting Issue #2: Prison Conditions

Prison conditions will be exacerbated through lengthier prison sentences. Lengthier stays will result in more wear-and-tear on prison infrastructure. Outrage at vile prison conditions, coupled with a low staff-to-prison ratio, and a lack of medical aid has culminated in violent outbreaks in prisons, unjustly hurting thousands of inmates and prison staff alike. Shortages of manpower has led to unqualified and defenseless people acting as security when they are incapable, facilitating more prison violence as they scramble to find competent guards to help them once these incidents start occurring. My opponent previously offered that reform will prevent this problem. He dropped all his arguments related to reform, guaranteeing that these impacts will occur. It is unconscionable to make prisons derelict with more people in prison serving longer sentences.

Voting Issue #3: Court Clog

With increased litigation as clients plead guilty less often per my El Paso evidence, courts are going to be congested with a titanic workload. People will be forced in pretrial detention for longer periods of time, accumulating masses of legally innocent people who are broken off from family and work connections and will incur thousands of dollars in lost income and property. Remember that without Pro being able to prove that reform will happen, (which he drops completely,) he will not be able to prove this point wrong. Weigh this argument because not only is it unjust for people to face disproportionate time in jail when they are innocent, but also because of the tangible effect on earnings that these people experience.


Even if judges accept the value and criterion as an additional framework, Con clearly shows that there are more unjust abuses in a world without plea bargaining. Court clog forces presumably innocent people to stay in jail for longer, which is disproportional to the crime. Prison conditions suffer immensely under the strain of new inmates, which should not be a punishment that prisoners nor their innocent staff should undergo. Finally, public defenders are unable to provide adequate defense for their destitute clients with heavier caseloads without plea bargaining, manifesting situations in which innocent people are sent to jail or face capital punishment because their public defender did not have enough time to aid them. This consequence is also disproportional punishment.

Thank you for the debate, Virt!
P.S. Who the heck reported this debate?



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