Politics and Plea Bargaining: Victims' Rights in California

By Candace McCoy | Go to book overview
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Chapter 1
Criminal Procedure: Target of Reform

Considering all the fuss in proposing and enacting new legislation, citizens reasonably come to believe that laws are serious things. When drafted, they must be carefully aimed toward particular goals. When operative, they must influence the behavior of the people to whom they are addressed.

It is frustrating, then, when social scientists announce that "nothing works" -- or even that a law not only has failed to produce desired changes but has even made matters worse. Although a durable tradition of commentary on legislative implementation takes this despairing tone,1 and although the effects of some laws are occasionally described as completely disastrous,2 the problem often lies not with the laws but with their evaluations.

A law's success is impossible to determine when its purposes, implementation, and results are complex or even contradictory. These dynamics are especially pronounced when evaluation must assess social systems with several components serving many different functions. For example, the criminal justice system is a collection of public organizations charged with performing exceedingly difficult, perhaps mutually exclusive tasks: convicting and punishing the guilty, protecting the innocent, treating everyone fairly, and serving as a symbol of powerful justice in a democratic society. The system is criticized when it does not keep these promises, and therefore it is frequently the target of reform legislation. But reform efforts are mostly doomed from the start, because the justice system -- indeed, no human institution -- can ever completely achieve all the lofty and ambiguous goals our civic orthodoxy sets for it. And no reform can change a social system radically enough to satisfy its severest critics. The most that

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