By Julian Verdon
FRESNO – Fresno County Superior Court has proven it is no different from other state courts when handing out plea bargains in large quantities—about 97 percent of criminal cases in California never go to trial.
To keep the criminal justice system’s congested criminal dockets flowing at a steady rate, the courts and prosecutors prioritize plea deals with defendants, and Wednesday the Fresno court accepted multiple no contest pleas for to those facing a DUI (driving under the influence).
To incentivize defendants to accept plea deals, prosecutors stack up charges and punishments in case the defendants decide to exercise their constitutional rights and go to trial.
But, if defendants give up those rights and accept a plea deal in Fresno Superior Court, as in Department 13, they get their jail sentences commuted.
One example of that was when Judge Samuel Dalesandro commuted Sergio Lopez Rojas’s DUI sentence.
“You are scheduled to serve 180 days in the Fresno County Jail, all of which is suspended except for  days. You are to [also] serve 364 days in the Fresno County Jail, all of which is suspended except for 40 days. That gives you a total of 49 days to serve on the adult offender program,” Judge Dalesandro told Rojas.
However, commuted sentences are not the only benefits of entering into a no-contest plea bargain. The prosecutors in charge of the cases often drop any additional charges that would be tacked on if the defendant proceeded to trial.
Under California law, defendants who willingly give up their right to a trial are given probation from these plea deals and are then giving up additional constitutional rights, including being subject to warrantless search and seizures at any time.
“You are to submit your person, property, and vehicle to search and seizure at any time day or night to a law enforcement officer or a probation officer. With or without a search warrant and with or without probable cause or reasonable suspicion,” Judge Dalesandro stated.
Moreover, plea bargains could negatively impact the immigration status for those currently involved in the immigration process. An illegal alien arrested for a DUI may get reported to ICE by the arresting officer, or ICE may be notified of the arrest or charge through federal databases.
Critics say the reason for an excessive amount of plea deals nowadays stems from a system of over-criminalization. And harsh penalties often do little to stop repeat offenses. In DUI cases, around 30 percent of those charged with intoxication behind the wheel had repeat offenses.
In the American criminal justice system, prosecutors use plea bargains as the primary tool to achieve a conviction status. “It’s how over 95 percent of all state and federal convictions occur, with minority defendants receiving disproportionately worse offers,” wrote Somil Trivedi, an ACLU attorney.
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