Supreme Court of the United States - 434 U.S. 357
The Court of Appeals held that a prosecutor violates due process of law when his charging decision is influenced by what he hopes to gain during plea bargaining negotiations. The prosecutor acted vindictively in this case by threatening to bring more severe charges after negotiations ended. The District Court's judgment was reversed, and the defendant was ordered to be discharged, except for his confinement under a lawful sentence imposed solely for the crime of uttering a forged instrument. However, the Supreme Court recognizes that the risk of harsher punishment is an inevitable and permissible aspect of plea bargaining, and prohibiting prosecutors from acting forthrightly in their dealings with the defense would only lead to unhealthy subterfuge and undermine the practice of plea bargaining. The prosecutor's conduct did not violate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and the judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed.
The dissenting Justices argue that the Court's ruling departs from established principles in previous cases, such as North Carolina v. Pearce and Blackledge v. Perry, which protect against prosecutorial vindictiveness. The author questions why the prosecution is not required to justify their actions on a basis other than discouraging the defendant from a trial. The author suggests that prosecutorial vindictiveness should be protected against by the Due Process Clause, regardless of whether it occurs during a legal attack on a conviction or during plea bargaining. The Court's decision to allow plea bargaining despite vindictiveness may lead prosecutors to bring greater charges initially in every case, which would still harm the accused. The author suggests that it is better to hold the prosecution to the original charge and justify it to the public. The Court of Appeals' judgment should be affirmed.
Justice Powell dissents from the majority opinion in a case where a prosecutor offered a plea deal of 5 years to a defendant charged with uttering a forged check, which the defendant rejected. The prosecutor then threatened to seek a new indictment under the Habitual Criminal Act, resulting in a mandatory life sentence due to the defendant's prior convictions. Justice Powell finds fault with the prosecutor's conduct, stating that the resulting sentence is unjust and motivated by a desire to punish the defendant for asserting his constitutional rights. The prosecutor's decision to escalate the charge against the defendant appears to be an abuse of prosecutorial power.
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