By Mei Perez and Noe Herrera
NORTH CAROLINA – Last spring, the Plea Tracker Project was launched in Berkshire County and Durham County in the district attorneys’ offices to augment transparency and promote equity in plea bargaining.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 90-95 percent of cases are resolved outside the courtroom through plea bargaining, a process through which “the United States has attained the world’s highest incarceration rate, with people of color disproportionately affected.”
Attorneys can use a number of different tactics during negotiations, including reducing felonies to misdemeanors and having charges dismissed, yet critics say these negotiations occur completely off of court record, creating the opportunity for abuses and inconsistencies to take place during plea bargaining.
Without these records, it can be impossible to understand why one person received a more lenient sentence than another. Beyond tactics, other reasons like better lawyers, implicit biases, or victim’s choices factor into these disparities, critics note.
The Plea Tracker in North Carolina, claim supporters, is designed to help overcome pervasive racial and prejudicial biases that influence case resolutions.
The tracker shows the reasons for disparities between case negotiations exist to help offices evaluate practices and implement new approaches. It serves as a tool for prosecutors to check the reasons behind their offers which can help expose implicit biases they may have had.
Moreover, by documenting pleas, supporters note the program anticipates being able to identify inconsistencies in similar cases, gaps in availability to therapeutic classes, racial disparities, and other incongruities within the American justice system.