Editorial Board, Free Press Staff
In the U.S., individuals accused of sexually based crimes are legally able to accept a plea deal that allows them to have reduced sentencing penalties. This is wrong and should not be allowed to the extent that it is currently bargained for.
When a sex crime is committed and being investigated, whether the victim reported the crime or not, it is pertinent that law enforcement working on the case find out every detail about the events of the crime. Once all of the information is collected, it is handed over to the local District Attorney’s office where members of the team there decide if there is enough evidence to prosecute the accused. If there is, charges are handed down and the accused is arrested. From this moment on, several options could unfold, one being plea negotiations.
Bargained out by the prosecution and defendant lawyers, plea negotiations are meant to avoid a case going to trial by having the defendant plea guilty. When the defendant admits guilt, they are doing so often in exchange for a lessened sentence than what they could receive if they went to trial. This is a gamble for the defendant because they could be accepting a plea deal that gives them more consequences than if a jury were to hear the case out.
The victim of the crime is almost always consulted by lawyers during the plea process and it is often asked whether or not they would go to trial and testify. Framed as saving the victim from taking the stand in a full courtroom, prosecution lawyers advocate for what they believe is the best course of action during a plea bargain.
One of the negotiations that sometimes occurs during sex crime plea deals is that a defendant may not have to register on the sex offender registry. In theory, an individual could commit an egregious sex crime and enter negotiations that allow for jail time but not registering as a sex offender.
Only four states in the U.S. require lifetime registration for sex crime convictions, California, Florida, South Carolina and Alabama. Defendants who face a one-time offense don’t want to be considered a sex offender for the rest of their life. This is something they should have considered before committing a crime in the first place. Some may argue that they deserve a second chance, but even a one-time offender has caused enough damage to traumatize their victim.
As of March 1, 2018, there are 197 people listed on the Maine Sex Offender Registry in Portland alone. Some crimes are misdemeanors. However, some are felonies. According to national census data and the U.S. Department of Justice, in 2012, only 0.1 percent of the population of the U.S. reported rapes or sexual assaults. In 2018, Portland’s sex crime rate for crimes as outrageous as a rape or direct sexual assault was lower than the national average from nearly six years ago.
At what point does it become more important to keep the court system moving swiftly than to serve total justice? Plea bargaining, though it is argued is beneficial to keep the victim from reliving their trauma, is vastly unjust. As a confession could be coerced by police, agreement to a plea deal from a victim could be coerced by lawyers looking to avoid trial. The implications of letting perpetrators of sex crimes off with fewer consequences is significant. In Portland, statistics indicate that either the city is purely well below the national average of sex crimes reported, or that individuals are being granted immunity from signing their name to a registry that was created to house them.
The victim should be the focus of the courts, finding what they can do to ensure justice and keep the victim safe. Letting the perpetrator of a sex crime off easy with a short sentence, just to be allowed back into society, is terrifying for the victim. Though it may be years later, they can still be haunted by their experience.