It was awhile back in conversation over a detective story that I had to explain to my daughter what a "plea bargain" is. Which is to say, I had to explain some of the stranger things in our court system. And as happens when you see the world through new eyes again, I found myself wondering:
What would happen if, in the bar association, it was considered a breach of ethics -- or even threatened your good standing as a lawyer -- to knowingly enter a "not guilty" plea for someone you knew to be guilty? What if, in defending someone known to be guilty, the only ethical option acceptable to a lawyer was to seek a more lenient sentence? If a lawyer was seeking the acquittal -- rather than the fair sentencing -- of someone known to be guilty, what if that lawyer was seen as obstructing justice? Would the change hurt anyone but the guilty? I suspect that, to keep down the nuisance and harrassment suits against lawyers, such things might be better handled by the bar or some such rather than leaving the policing of lawyers to the whim and initiative of citizens; otherwise the pendulum would swing too far the other direction and no good defense would be mounted. Besides, proving what a lawyer knew, and when, would not be an easy matter.
What would happen if a defendant's plea -- or rather, the honesty of a defendant's plea -- was considered during the sentencing phase of a trial? What if a person who made an honest admission of guilt could have his or her honesty considered during sentencing as some sort of incentive for honesty? Possibly it already is considered ... but when explaining "plea bargain" to my daughter, I had to wonder: how many people plead "not guilty" even when there is (say) a security video tape of a robbery, just because currently there is no incentive to be truthful?
These things would work best if we had better standards for convicting only the guilty. Granted, the majority of the guilty seem to walk free from our courts. But sometimes it goes the other way and someone innocent ends up living a nightmare. So speaking of "what if": What if every state undertook a study of convictions that were later disproved and overturned, then found out how the blazes that happened? What if similar cases were nominated for a review? What if juries were advised when any "red flag" situations arose that have been known to cause wrongful convictions?
Just pondering. There may be holes in these ideas, but I wonder if they could help.