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How Common are Plea Agreements?

September 08, 2016 08:03 PM

(ABC 6 NEWS) – The man who confessed to killing Jacob Wetterling will not spend a day in prison for the murder itself.

Danny Heinrich entered a plea agreement, pleading guilty to one count of child pornography and will serve a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

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“I wouldn’t say it’s a one-of-a-kind but it certainly is a unique set of circumstances and facts,” said assistant Olmsted County Attorney Eric Woodford.

Criminal defense attorney David Liebow is not affiliated with the Danny Heinrich case. However, he says 90 percent of the cases he handles are resolved with a plea deal.

“The system is not built to have trials or too many trials,” added Liebow. “The system is built for most cases to get resolved well before or at trial at the very latest.”

“Plea agreements absolutely are the lifeblood of our criminal justice system. If we didn’t do it, it would literally grind to a halt,” says Woodford.

Woodford is also not involved in the Heinrich case, but he says the Wetterling family knew about the agreement before going into court.

“Under Minnesota law, the victims must be informed of the plea agreement that’s been reached between the state and the defendant,” said Woodford. “They do not have veto power, in that sense the prosecutor can go forward with the plea agreement the victims don’t agree with.”

Liebow says pleas are common because defendants often want to speed up the process. He says if this wasn't the process and more cases went to trail - there simply wouldn't be enough resources.

“It’s the kind of case that I think we won’t see for a long time if not ever,” added Liebow.

Danny Heinrich will be sentenced in November. He could also be civilly committed into Minnesota's sex offender program after he completes his sentence.


Credits

Karsen Forsman

Copyright 2016 - KAAL-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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