The Alaska Department of Law, the state's prosecutors, will no longer negotiate plea deals for lesser sentences for Alaskans accused of serious crimes and domestic violence, reported the Anchorage Daily News.
The change of policy, which took effect last week, bars plea bargains involving sentences for the most serious classes of felony cases, as well as all cases involving sexual assault, sexual abuse of a minor and domestic violence, said deputy attorney general Richard Svobodny.
A plea bargain is an agreement between a prosecutor and defendant in which the defendant agrees to plead guilty in exchange for a lesser charge or a more lenient sentence, avoiding a trial.
Nationally, between 90 and 95 percent of all criminal cases are settled through such agreements, according to a 2011 U.S. Department of Justice study. Attorneys say the statistic is roughly the same in Anchorage.
Under the new policy, prosecutors can offer defendants the opportunity to be charged with a less serious crime. But they can't offer a deal that changes the length of a sentence. Only a judge can do that.
The idea is that judges should be the ones determining sentences, not prosecutors or defense attorneys, Svobodny said.
Attorneys say the policy could flood already-stretched courts with criminal defendants exercising their right to trial and generate huge new costs for prosecution and incarceration, which would eventually be borne by the public.
In 1975, Alaska's then-attorney general banned all forms of plea bargaining. Dire predictions of system overload didn't pan out, though misdemeanor trials increased substantially in the immediate aftermath of the ban, a 1977 Alaska Judicial Council study found.
A 1990 judicial council study found that the ban had eroded and the practice was again commonplace.
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