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A life sentence with a plea bargain?

Plea bargains are an inescapable fact of life within the criminal justice system. Most criminal cases in Missouri and throughout the nation are disposed of with a plea agreement. If every case went to trial, the state would need to hire dozens, if not hundreds, of additional judges and prosecutors to handle the workload.

Plea agreements are useful and can provide a benefit for both the state and the accused. If you are facing a criminal charge that carries a potentially significant sentence, it is often advisable to accept a plea agreement for a lesser sentence, as 10 years in prison may be better than risking a life sentence at trial.

However, the accused must understand the full ramifications of the plea bargain before accepting such an agreement. A man in Columbia is currently dealing with the consequence of a plea agreement that left him in an indefinite civil commitment after an assault charge in 2004.

The man was accused of shooting his roommate with a bb gun, which led to a first-degree assault charge. He could have been sentenced to a term of life imprisonment for that charge. Instead, he plead not guilty by reason of insanity, the consequences of which he now claims he was not informed at the time of the plea agreement.

He stated he had attempted to commit suicide with the gun and the roommate intervened and was shot in the process.

The record from the plea acceptance hearing that occurred does not indicate the judge interviewed the accused and made certain he understood the consequences. The man argues his due process rights were violated by this omission.

It is unclear if any formal analysis of his mental condition has been completed, although one comment in the news story notes that at some point, the Department of Corrections stated he showed no signs of "mental distress or disturbance."

If his allegations are true, they are as troubling as a scene from a Kafka short story, with a man facing a virtual life sentence for a mistaken plea bargain made on questionable mental health grounds.

Source: columbiatribune.com, "Man challenges incarceration, claims ineffective counsel," ALAN BURDZIAK, November 28, 2015

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