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7 Alaska Just. F. 1 (1990-1991)

handle is hein.journals/aljufor7 and id is 1 raw text is: ALASKA JUSTICE FORUM
A Publication of the                                                     Alaska Justice
Justice Center                                                      Statistical Analysis Unit
Spring 1990             UNIVERSITY OF ALASKA ANCHORAGE                  Vol.7, No. 1

The State of Plea Bargaining in Alaska

- Otwin Marinen
(The research described in the
following article was funded by a
Faculty Development Grant from the
University of Alaska Fairbanks. The
author thanks the University for its
In 1975, the Alaska Attorney
General banned plea bargaining
between defense attorneys and
prosecutors in criminal cases. This
ban, with some modifications, is
supposed to remain in effect. The
Alaska experience is often cited
outside the state to support
arguments that plea bargaining -
which remains one of the more
controversial policies in the
American criminal justice system -
can be abolished elsewhere as well,
with little fear that the criminal
justice system will be tied up in
knots if cases are brought to trial
rather than bargained out. However,
using the example of Alaska to argue
the theoretical and practical
implications of the abolition of plea
bargaining is likely to lead to
* The Bureau of Justice
Statistics examines felony
case processing in 1986
(page 2).
*   Coming to Anchorage,
(page 6).
* New Feature: Resources
available through Justice
Center library, (page 8).

incorrect assessments - first, because
plea bargaining has not totally
disappeared and second, because the
functioning of the Alaska justice
system differs in important ways
from that of other states.
It is my argument that in reality
plea bargaining did not completely
disappear after being formally
banned. Recent studies of crime and
processing data suggest that, despite
the ban, plea bargaining continues in
Alaska, specifically in the form of
charge bargaining. The findings of
these analyses are supported by
interviews I conducted with lawyers,
judges, district attorneys and public
defenders in Fairbanks, Anchorage
and Juneau in August 1989. The
studies suggest that charges in a
substantial number of felony cases
are reduced between initial charge
and final disposition; the interviews
suggest that many of these
reductions are the result of bargains
between prosecutors and defense
Details of Studies
Recent analyses of crime data
show a substantial number of charge
reductions.      In   1987,    a
comprehensive study by the Alaska
Judicial Council of 1,128 felony
cases from 1984 found that 32.2 per
cent of all persons found guilty were
convicted of a lesser offense than the
initial charge.
The PROMIS (Prosecutor
Management Information System)
data base used in the analysis codes
only stated sentence bargains - that
is, those under Rule 11 - as plea
bargains. Only 2.8 per cent of all
changes from initial charges to final

conviction are coded as such. The
reasons why the remaining 30 per
cent of charges were reduced are not
given in the data themselves, but one
can speculate that these changes
were also the results of bargains.
The study also found that offenders
who went to trial received longer
sentences than those who pleaded
guilty. Similar findings have been
made in other Judicial Council
studies since 1974, including a 1980
plea bargaining evaluation.
Knowledge of such a discount for
pleading guilty could be expected to
have an effect on the rate of guilty
Studies conducted by Allan
Barnes of the Justice Center at the
University of Alaska Anchorage,
using OBTS (Offender Based.
Transaction System) data for the
years 1984, 1985 and 1986, also show
substantial numbers of cases for
which charges were reduced.   In
1984, 55 per cent of all felony
arrests were rejected as nolle
prosequi by prosecutors. Of the 42
per cent of cases carried to court, 80
per cent were charged as felonies
and 20 per cent as misdemeanors.
(The other 3 per cent could not be
coded or were rejected by the grand
jury.) The accused pleaded guilty to
22 per cent of the cases taken to
court and pleaded nolo contendere
in 68 per cent of the cases. The
typical outcome of a plea bargain in
Alaska is nolo contendere rather
than a guilty plea.   Hence, to
practitioners, a nolo contendere plea
signifies that bargaining has
According to Barnes, in 1985, 44
per cent of all felony arrests were
Please turn to PLEA, p. 6

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