The citizens of Dubuque County deserve transparency from the County Attorney’s Office. The administration of justice in our democracy is not accomplished in secret.
The ultimate guarantee of transparency and accountability in criminal prosecutions is trial by jury. When a case is presented to a jury in a public trial, that is transparency in prosecution. The jury decides guilt, the judge decides the sentence. As long as the prosecution has competently presented the evidence, justice has been done in that case.
Plea bargains are necessarily less transparent, and therefore require greater accountability from prosecutors. The County Attorney should be able to explain to the public and victims of crimes how a bargain protects their interests. When defendants who have committed particularly heinous crimes are given the benefit of a deal, the County Attorney should be prepared to explain the rationale and accept responsibility for that decision.
Furthermore, plea bargains deserve scrutiny because of the possibility of unequal treatment. Why should one defendant be prosecuted for First Degree Murder and another given an opportunity to plead to a lesser charge? Particularly when victims belong to a marginalized or minority group, prosecutors must be prepared to explain apparently inequitable agreements. In such cases, trial by jury must be prioritized as the ultimate guarantee of transparency and accountability.