Of the nearly 700 criminal cases in Finney County last year, only six actually went to trial.
While the county doesn’t have specific numbers on how many cases were dismissed, many are settled through plea bargains.
“If we were to do jury trials on every case we would have to be doing roughly three a day and that would be assuming a trial wouldn’t take more than a day,” said Susan Richmeier, Finney County attorney.
Many attorneys say that plea bargains are a necessary part of the legal process, and allow both the prosecution and defense to handle crimes on a case-by-case basis.
“Everyone’s working towards getting a just outcome with the least impact on county resources, um trial time,” said Luci Douglas, a criminal defense attorney.
“The most important aspect to think of in a plea agreement is that you have to provide some certainty or finality to a case,” said Will Votypka, the deputy Finney county attorney.
So far this year, the county attorney has taken eight cases to trial and has about 20 more scheduled before the end of December.
With any trial, the outcome is unpredictable.
Attorneys say plea bargains allow some assurance that the defendant will end up paying for their crime—taking appeals and juries out of the equation.
“I think that’s where the benefit is, is that we get to secure a conviction,” Richmeier said.
The county adds a conviction from a plea deal will end with a criminal record, meaning, additional crimes would end with more serious jail time.
As for victims, they’re considered in any plea bargain.
“An agreement on the restitution if there’s a restitution amount and other orders of no contact, other stuff that will make the victim whole,” Votypka said.
A judge must agree with the terms of the plea bargain and does have the option to give a harsher punishment than the one agreed to in the plea deal.