Thursday, June 11, 2009

Assembly Line Justice - FedEx Pleas

In the past I've witnessed several judges engage in the practice of what I call "assembly line pleas." I'm sure the judges feel as though it saves time, but in reality, it does not. I've timed them.

There are several elements to taking a defendant's plea - the defense attorney tells the judge what the negotiated agreement with the State entails, the judge asks a series of questions of the defendant, and once they're satisfied that the defendant is freely and voluntarily entering his/her plea, the judge imposes the sentence.

An assembly line plea is when multiple defendants are lined up in front of the judge and plead guilty or no contest to the charges against them. The judge asks the required questions once (e.g., "How far did you go in school?" "Where were you born?" "Is this your signature on the plea form?" etc.) and then the defendants answer one after another. Generally, one-person plea takes approximately 5 minutes (sometimes more, sometimes less) to conduct. I've seen courtrooms where as many as 7 defendants are lined up for 45 minutes for their plea. And then they wait an additional 30-60 minutes (or more) for their paperwork.

There are several reasons why I dislike this practice.
  1. It treats people as if they're a number - and not worthy of the judge's one-on-one attention: http://tinyurl.com/dxj532.
  2. It increases the risk of clerical errors because the clerk receives several files for processing at the same time.
  3. Ditto with having people line up to get fingerprints taken after their plea.

Additionally, too many judges are like this guy when taking a plea (whether of an assembly-line or one-on-one nature): http://tinyurl.com/5na67o. Please take a moment to consider how the defendant feels and SLOW DOWN!

1 comment:

  1. There is another problem with assembly-line pleas: you are taking a defendant's word instead of having properly researched his history or intentions, or often his criminal history. In Atlanta, one judge was so snowed by a defendant's lies about running a "wedding dress website" that she let him go -- it wasn't his website, and then he killed a cancer researcher. Another judge boisterously sentenced a youth who shot a classmate three times to the sentence of "staying in school," which, ironically, his victim could not do because of his injuries and fear of the person who shot him, who was free, walking the streets. As a court clerk once told me, you don't end up in a line-up for singing too loud in the choir. So trust should not be so readily displayed for defendants in the courtroom.

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