In several important ways, the plea bargain system in American courts perverts justice: encouraging prosecutors to pile on charges in hopes of frightening defendants into bargaining, and forcing those being charged to consider falsely pleading guilty because the punishment that would arise from going to trial and losing would be massive.
Nonetheless, The Economist reports that plea bargaining is spreading, from 19 countries in 1990 to 66 now. In federal courts in the United States, “close to 100%” of convictions arise from plea bargains. Less than 3% of federal court defendants go to trial.
The flaws with plea bargaining dovetail with other injustices, from the insufficient provision of public defence lawyers to the structural discrimination embedded in discretionary prosecution and exploitation of civil forfeiture.