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Bordenkircher v. Hayes

434 U.S. 357 (1978)

tl;dr: A prosecutor's credible threat to bring more serious charges if the defendant does not plead guilty to the current charges does not constitute coercion.

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The case of Bordenkircher v. Hayes dealt with whether a prosecutor's threat to reindict an accused on more serious charges during plea negotiations violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The prosecutor offered a plea deal of 5 years in prison but also threatened to seek an indictment under the Kentucky Habitual Criminal Act, which would result in a mandatory life sentence, if Hayes did not plead guilty. Hayes refused to plead guilty and was subsequently indicted under the Habitual Criminal Act. The Kentucky Court of Appeals rejected Hayes' constitutional objections to the enhanced sentence, stating that it was constitutionally permissible due to his prior felonies, and that the prosecutor's decision to indict him as a habitual offender was a legitimate use of leverage in the plea-bargaining process.

Hayes filed a writ of habeas corpus, which was denied by the District Court but reversed by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court found that the prosecutor did not violate the defendant's rights because the defendant was fully informed of the true terms of the offer when he made his decision to plead not guilty. However, the prosecutor was found to have acted vindictively because he admitted that the indictment was influenced by his desire to induce a guilty plea. The Court concluded that a prosecutor acts vindictively and violates due process of law whenever his charging decision is influenced by what he hopes to gain in plea bargaining negotiations. The lower court erred in denying the writ.

The Supreme Court recognizes the importance of plea bargaining and established the need for counsel, public record, and keeping prosecutor's plea-bargaining promise. The Due Process Clause does not prohibit vindictiveness in plea bargaining. The prosecutor has discretion in deciding whether or not to prosecute and what charges to file. The Court of Appeals erred in holding that the substance of the plea offer violated the Due Process Clause. Justice Blackmun dissents from the majority opinion, arguing that vindictiveness should be protected against by the Due Process Clause, regardless of whether it occurs after attacking an original conviction or during plea bargaining.

Justice Powell disagrees with the Court's decision, stating that the prosecutor's decision to threaten the defendant with a mandatory life sentence under the Habitual Criminal Act was motivated by the defendant's refusal to plead guilty and to discourage his assertion of constitutional rights. The prosecutor's decision was unreasonable and unconstitutional. Plea bargaining is important, but prosecutors must operate within constitutional limits. The Court of Appeals' opinion should be affirmed.

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Facts:The defendant was indicted on forgery charges, which carried a...

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Bordenkircher v. Hayes

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