Former vice president Walter F. Mondale is correct in stating that current levels of crime in the United States are neither normal nor tolerable (op-ed, Aug. 6). But he will not solve this serious problem by advocating a group of worn- out and contradictory clich,es.
In his opening comments, Mondale criticizes alleged lenient judicial sentencing. He goes on to expressly and by implication adopt the entire line of argument that we are too soft on criminals and that we need to lock them up longer. Mondale calls criminals "predators" and vividly describes the havoc they wreak when free on the streets.
But his concluding remarks call for alternatives to prison based around work release and other community involvement programs for criminals. We in New Mexico have experimented widely with the use of such programs, and the result has been dozens upon dozens of criminals walking away.
I do not suggest that we abandon every effort to re-integrate criminals into the society. Rather, I am merely pointing out the obvious dilemma: that placing prisoners in alternative programs to maximum security prisons runs the risk that they will escape and again become predators on society. Mondale never recognizes the inherent difficulty between his two concepts.
He next criticizes the practice in criminal procedure of plea-bargaining. He argues that plea-bargaining provides so many benefits to criminals by reducing their charges that it has caused the entire criminal justice system to lose a deterent effect.
Mondale goes on to link plea-bargaining to another problem, which is that we are now convicting so many criminals that our penal institutions are dangerously overcrowded.
While I agree that our penitentiaries are seriously overcrowded, I cannot understand how Mondale can possibly blame this on plea-bargaining, after first stating that plea-bargaining was apparently turning all of the criminals loose. The very problem of an overcrowded prison system described by Mondale is proof that plea-bargaining does not necessarily benefit the criminals.
Mondale states that it is difficult to explain to non-lawyers what benefit society receives from granting the criminal defendant concessions in exchange for the criminal's surrendering his right to trial by jury. Any experienced criminal prosecutor, however, would have no difficulty at all in showing what the society gains when the criminal does surrender his right to trial by jury. Although saving the time and expense of a trial is an obvious byproduct of plea-bargaining, it is only that -- a byproduct. The real advantages obtained from plea-bargaining are:
1. Speed: In giving up his right to trial by jury, the criminal defendant simultaneously gives up his right to be free on bond pending trial and again pending appeal, which combined, can often allow him to be free on the streets for over a year from the time that charges are filed.
2. Certainty: When the criminal defendant surrenders his right to trial by jury and pleads guilty, the state avoids any risk of an acquittal by a jury or a reversal of a conviction upon an appeal to a higher court, events that occur regularly in the criminal justice system. There are thousands of cases across the country where the prosecution elects to avoid plea-bargaining and brings the case to trial only to lose everything.
3. Practicality: There are not enough judges, prosecutors and juries to possibly hear every felony case. The truth is that if every criminal defendant in the country were to demand his right to trial by jury, the entire system would collapse in a few months and total anarchy would reign.
We can and should do more to fight the crime problem in this country, but it will surely take more than collecting a group of nice-sounding but empty phrases.