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Copyright (c) 1987 Cornell Law Review
Cornell Law Review

NOTE: ACCOMPLICE TESTIMONY UNDER CONTINGENT PLEA AGREEMENTS.

May, 1987

72 Cornell L. Rev. 800

Author

Yvette A. Beeman

Excerpt

In a criminal case the prosecutor will often make a plea agreement with an accomplice of the defendant. Under these traditionally sanctioned agreements the accomplice receives a reduced sentence in return for full and truthful testimony during the defendant's trial. In recent years, some prosecutors have further conditioned the accomplice's reduction in sentence upon the defendant's indictment or conviction or the prosecutor's satisfaction with the accomplice's testimony.

This Note addresses whether testimony made pursuant to such contingent plea agreements is so unreliable that courts should exclude the testimony from evidence. This Note begins with a historical background of accomplice plea agreements and discusses the due process doctrine used to analyze the constitutionality of such agreements. It then examines recent developments involving contingent accomplice plea agreements. Finally, it concludes that courts should prohibit contingent accomplice plea agreements based upon defendants' due process rights and courts' supervisory powers to reject unreliable evidence.

I

BACKGROUND

A. The History of Accomplice Plea Agreements

The long history of prosecutorial leniency in return for accomplice testimony has led to its widespread acceptance. Although courts recognize that accomplice plea agreements may encourage perjury, they deem that the value of the information obtained through such agreements outweighs the danger of unreliability.

1. At Common Law

Common law courts have sanctioned the practice of plea bargaining for centuries. At early common law, English courts considered accomplices competent accusers in felony cases and either pardoned the accomplice upon the defendant's conviction or executed the accomplice upon the ...
 
 
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