The very same District Attorney who was elected on a platform that said “Judges aren’t referees, and justice is not a game” has turned her office into a playing field, offering prosecutors rewards for taking cases to trial rather than settling them through plea bargains. In 2008 she said convictions shouldn’t be “about the counting of scalps”, according to the Houston Chronicle.
Her new rewards based methodology seems an awful lot like a game, particularly when she calls them “competitions” herself in official memos. “The purpose of these competitions is to reward folks who go to trial and achieve justice.”
If prosecutors “win” by taking more cases to trial, they may get to assist on a murder case or get an afternoon off for their “prize”. Needless to say, the DA is facing some serious criticism for the games she has initiated.
Some are worried prosecutors will be driven to take weak cases to court, wasting taxpayer time and money. And what about changing the outcome of cases that would’ve simply made more sense to end with a plea agreement? Instead, she seems to think real justice is sending more cases to an already overburdened court system.
In Texas and across the country, the vast majority of cases end in plea agreements. These “bargains” are usually a compromise for all involved. The prosecutor gets a guilty plea while the defendant gets a slightly more lenient sentence or lesser charges in exchange.
Now this isn’t to say plea bargains aren’t without their problems. Often, if convinced they won’t do good at trial, a defendant might plead guilty to a crime they didn’t commit just to avoid the potentially more lengthy prison sentence that would result if found guilty at trial. Also, the plea bargaining system paired with the DA’s decision on what charges a defendant faces in the first place often make the prosecutor in charge of the justice system, rather than the judge or the jury.
However, handing out awards for taking cases to trial hardly seems like the rational way of “fixing” things. It’s not clear if fixing or establishing integrity back in the justice system is this DA’s goal, however, as she plans to pass out a “Trial Dawg Award” to the first prosecutor to try 12 jury trials this year.
It seems ironic these contests are happening under the same DA who renounced game-playing in her campaign. According to the Chronicle she hopes that the contests will be “fun for all.”