- Associated Press - Monday, December 12, 2016

COLUMBUS, Neb. (AP) - The Platte County attorney’s office said nearly every criminal case in the county ends in a plea agreement.

Only 1 percent to 2 percent of the roughly 1,200 criminal cases the office handles each year go to trial, which amounts to about two dozen cases between the county and districts courts, Platte County attorney Carl Hart told the Columbus Telegram (https://bit.ly/2gR9Xgk ).

“Our criminal justice system is pretty responsive to the community,” Hart said. “People just have to be confident that we’re using public resources responsibly.”

Hart said many considerations are examined before making a decision, such as an offender’s risk to the public, the provability of facts and a “reasonable chance” of convincing jurors to convict a defendant. Judges are not involved in the negotiating process but frequently let defendants know they are not bound by the terms of the plea deal entered in court.

County public defender Tim Matas said he advises his clients on the nature of their charges but doesn’t direct them to a plea agreement. He said the local court system doesn’t have the time or resources to stage a trial every week. He noted that many defendants accept a plea deal because they are unable to post bond.

“We’ve got a luxury legal system that if it were rolled out all the time, we couldn’t afford to use it,” said Sen. Paul Schumacher of Columbus. “That results, out of necessity, in the plea bargaining system.”

But the former prosecutor notes that the system has criminalized a lot of behavior, such as drug addiction, but not necessarily solved the problem. Schumacher backs legislation to fight prison overcrowding by directing low-level offenders to probation.

“We’ve gotten rid of people (and filled prisons) with people who are nuisances, but not threats to public safety,” he said.

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Information from: Columbus Telegram, https://www.columbustelegram.com


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