Bonacic Bill Approved By Senate Reverses Plea Bargain Rule

John J. Bonacic

June 12, 2006

State Senator John J. Bonacic (R/I/C – Mt. Hope), today said that his legislation prohibiting the Division of State police from limiting troopers ability to plea bargain with motorists charged with vehicle and traffic law violations, other than alcohol or drug related charges, was approved by the Senate. The bill is sponsored in the Assembly by Assemblyman Joseph Lentol.

It was recently announced that the Division of State Police would be changing the way "plea-bargaining" occurs – prohibiting troopers from doing it and instead handing off the job to localities, but without additional revenue to pay for the costs incurred by the local counties.

The plan has drawn significant concern from counties, local judges, district attorneys and troopers. The concerns relate to the fact that prosecutors are paid for with local property taxes and State troopers are paid through the State. The effect of the policy change would be to shift the cost of prosecutions to localities, thereby placing an additional burden on property taxpayers while not even necessarily reducing State costs.

State Police brass said the move was made because it was unethical to have troopers plea bargaining with motorists. "I find it difficult to believe that State police brass let a policy go on for years while they privately believed it to be repugnant or unethical. I think there is a different motive in this policy change," Bonacic said.

Typically when motorists are pulled over and ticketed, if the motorist pleads not guilty, they are offered the chance to plead guilty to a different charge on the day of trial. The different charge may or may not carry "points", but typically will not impact insurance rates as much as a speeding ticket does.

Explaining the consequences of the policy change, Bonacic added, "That means a potential extra trip to the courthouse for the motorist, and an extra law enforcement official – in this case a prosecutor, funded by real property taxes, in the courtroom at the same time as the Trooper. That simply makes no sense in terms of judicial economy or fiscal policy. Anytime you are paying two law enforcement officials to obtain the same result it used to take just one of them to obtain, the taxpayer is getting a raw deal."

The Senator noted that troopers now have the option of requesting a DA to prosecute a particularly troublesome case. "I don’t know too many troopers who call a DA for help on vehicle and traffic violations. However, I know of no DA’s in this State who would tell a trooper who requests help, that they aren’t available," Bonacic said.

"Speaking as someone whose been there as an Assistant District Attorney, a County Legislator, and now a State Senator, I’d rather invest $1 million locally to put more police on the street, than put $1 million worth of lawyers in traffic courts. I am pleased my colleagues in the Senate supported this measure," said Bonacic.

The Bonacic bill will now be sent to the Assembly for action.