Report No. 142
Verbatim extracts of the Relevant Passages from the Two Leading Cases of U.S. Supreme Court
(See Chapter VI, paras. 6.19 and 6.21)
The United States Supreme Court in Erady v. United States examined the position thoroughly and came to the conclusion that if a constitutional right to trial by a court or by jury is waived by a subject by entering a voluntary plea of guilty, it is not invalid if the waiver is voluntary and is made with sufficient awareness of the relevant circumstances arid likely consequences. Justice White, who delivered the opinion of the Court, observed:
"It is the defendant's consent that judgment on conviction may be entered without a trial ... .waiver of his right to trial before a jury or a judge- Waivers of constitutional rights not only must be voluntary, but must be knowing, intelligent acts done with sufficient awareness of the relevant circumstances and likely consequences. On neither score could the plea of guilty be held to be invalid."
Justice White further observed: (Page 757)
"The State to some degree encourages pleas of guilty on every important step in the criminal process. For some people their breach of a State's law is alone sufficient reason for surrendering themselves and accepting punishment. For others, apprehension and charge, both threatening acts by the Government, jar them into admitting their guilt.
In still other cases, the post-indictment accumulation of evidence may convince the defendant and his counsel that a trial is not worth the agony and expense to the defendant and his family. All these pleas of guilty are valid in spite of the State's responsibility for some of the factors motivating the pleas; the pleas are no more improperly compelled than is the decision by a defendant at the close of the State's evidence at trial that he must take the stand or face certain conviction."
2. The following observations of Justice White at pages 758 and 759 are illuminating:
"The issue we deal with is inherent in the criminal law and its administration because guilty pleas are not constitutionally forbidden, because the criminal law characteristically extends to judge or jury a range of choice in setting the sentence in individual cases, and because both the State and the defendant often find it advantageous to preclude the possibility of the maximum penalty authorised by law.
For a defendant who sees slight possibility of acquittal, the advantages of pleading guilty and limiting the probable penalty are obvious-his exposure is reduced, the correctional processes can begin immediately, and the practical burdens of a trial are eliminated.
For the State there are also advantages-the more promptly imposed punishment after an admission of guilt may more effectively attain the objectives of punishment; and with the avoidance of trial, scares judicial and prosecutorial resources are conserved for those cases in which there is a substantial issue of the defendant's guilt or in which there is substantial doubt that the State can sustain its burden of proof.
It is this mutuality of advantage that perhaps explains the fact that at present well over three-fourths of the criminal convictions in this country rest on pleas of guilty, a great many of them no doubt motivated at least in part by the hope or assurance of a lesser penalty than might be imposed if there were a guilty verdict after a trial to judge or jury."
3. The following observations occurring at pages 761-762 are also pertinent:
"This is not to say that guilty plea convictions hold no hazards for the innocent or that the methods of taking guilty pleas presently employed in this country are necessarily valid in all respects. This mode of conviction is no more foolproof than full trials to the court or to the jury. Accordingly, we take great precautions against unsound results, and we should continue to do so, whether conviction is by plea or by trial.
We would have serious doubts about this case if the encouragement of guilty pleas by offers of leniency substantially increased the likelihood that defendants, advised by competent counsel, would falsely condemn themselves. But our view is to the contrary and is based on our expectations that courts will satisfy themselves that pleas of guilty are voluntarily and intelligently made by competent defendants with adequate advice of counsel and that there is nothing to question the accuracy and reliability of the defendants admissions that they committed the crimes with which they are charged."
6.21. In the second leading case, namely, SANTOBELLO, the United States Supreme Court once again reiterated the constitutional validity of the plea-bargaining. Chief Justice Burger, who delivered the opinion of the court, observed (pages 260, 261):
"The disposition of criminal charges by agreement between the prosecutor and the accused, sometimes loosely called "plea-bargaining," is an essential component of the administration of justice. Properly administered, it is to be encouraged. If every criminal charge were subjected to a full-scale trial, the States and the Federal Government would need to multiply by many times the number of judges and court facilities.
Disposition of charges after plea-discussions is not only an essential part of the process but a highly desirable part for many reasons. It leads to prompt and largely final disposition of most criminal cases; it avoids much of the corrosive impact of enforced idleness during pre-trial confinement for those who are denied release pending trial; it protects the public from those accused persons who are prone to continue criminal conduct even while on pre-trial release; and by shortening the time between charge and disposition, it enhances whatever may be the rehabilitative prospects of the guilty when they are ultimately imprisoned.
However, all of these considerations pre-suppose fairness in securing agreement between an accused and a prosecutor. It is now clear, for example, that the accused pleading guilty must be counselled, absent a waiver. Moore v. Michigan, 355 US 155 (1957): Fed. Rule Crim. Proc. 11, governing pleas in federal courts, now makes clear that the sentencing judge must develop, on the record, the factual basis for the plea, as, for example, by having the accused describe the conduct that gave rise to the charge .... ."
5. Douglas, J. in his concurring opinion observed that, while plea-bargaining is not per se unconstitutional, a guilty plea is rendered voidable by any threats that may be held out as a consequence of which the accused enters any plea of guilty. The learned Judge further observed that:
"In order to assist appellate review in weighing promises in light of all the circumstances, all trial courts are now required to interrogate the defendants who enter guilty pleas so that the waiver of these fundamental rights will affirmatively appear in the record."