City Club hosts discussion on effectiveness of plea bargains

Posted at 8:47 PM, Sep 19, 2017
and last updated 2017-09-19 20:47:22-04

Innocent people imprisoned and convicted felons out far too early.

Plea deals are responsible and now a who’s who of judges, lawyers and victims are speaking out about why plea deals are not always the best idea.

Some of the best and brightest in Cleveland’s legal scene agree – plea deals are a strange and secretive part of the court process that doesn't always end with justice.

“He used his ability to enter my apartment… while I was sleeping. I woke up to it,” said Alisa Alfaro, a Cleveland Heights sexual assault victim.

Many sexual assault victims like Alfaro fight hard to get their rapists, in her case her own neighbor, behind bars.

“I am going to take a rapist off the street,” she said.

Sadly though, in this country, no matter how hard victims like Alfaro fight, less than 2% of rapists spend even a single day in jail, according to CEO of the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center Sondra Miller

“Some victims are very disappointed with pleas. Others are relieved because it means at least they’re getting some element of justice, even if it’s not everything they had hoped for,” said Miller.

97% of convictions in the U.S. are reached by plea bargains – the defendant pleading guilty in exchange for a lesser sentence. Many rape cases, Miller says, end in a plea deal.

“It means if an offender can go behind bars for at least some period of time, they feel like at least the community is a little bit safer,” said Miller.

“We have victims’ advocates here who on some occasions they feel that the plea doesn't reflect really what actually took place,” said Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Judge Michael Donnelly.

Donnelly said the U.S. plea deal system needs to change. It has placed innocent people behind bars and it’s let convicted felons out far too soon.

“Prosecutors, defense lawyers, judges, legislators to sit down at the table and say what’s happening, do we like it? What are our frustrations? How can we improve it?” said Donnelly.