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Few Criminal Cases Go To Trial In Lee County

Publication Date: 
October 08, 2007
The News-Press
Pat Gillespie

Professor George Fisher is quoted extensively in Florida's News-Press about plea bargaining in Lee County:

George Fisher, a professor at Stanford University Law School, who wrote a 2003 book about plea bargaining, said plea agreements run the court system.

"Justice really is done best when it's done quickly," he said. "And plea bargains offer that."

They benefit prosecutors because they lessen their caseload, while pleas help judges manage their schedules and allow defendants to serve less time than they face if their cases went to trial, Fisher said.

Pleas also save taxpayer dollars.

Although studies haven't been done locally, Fisher said trials cost time of judges, clerks, bailiffs and prosecutors, as well as incurring costs for electricity, telephone and other related courtroom expenses. Police officers have to sit in court, waiting to testify instead of patrolling the streets and witnesses and experts sometimes have to be flown into town.

"The savings are enormous," said Fisher, a former Massachusetts assistant attorney general and assistant district attorney. "We'd have to have more courtrooms if we didn't have pleas."

A plea agreement in Lee County typically takes around 20 minutes, while trials can take days to a week to complete.

Fisher said prosecutors' caseloads don't determine whether they will offer a plea agreement, but it factors in the decision.

"I think if you took away caseload, you'd have far less plea bargains," he said. "It's a big, big part of the motivation."