LIMA — While perceived inequities in felony sentencing is a hot topic among people on social media platforms, the mention of the term “plea deal” typically turns up the heat even further.
Allen County Assistant Prosecutor Tony Miller said plea negotiations are largely misunderstood but necessary part of the legal system.
“People are shocked when I tell them that between 480 and 520 felony indictments are handed down by the grand jury every year in Allen County. By sheer numbers, it’s impossible to take every case to trial,” Miller said. “There are 52 weeks in a year and two courtrooms. It just doesn’t work. With 500 cases a year, you’re going to have to do plea deals simply as a practical matter.”
Miller said prosecutors look at every case and, based on their collective experience and knowledge of the law, decide how to best attempt to reach a fair and equitable resolution.
“There are so many factors to consider — from evidentiary considerations to the wishes of the victim or their family to the range of possible punishments,” Miller said. “Probably the No. 1 thing we take into account is the protection of the public, but as prosecutors we also take seriously the idea that we are stewards of the people’s tax dollars. We are paid by the public, and we want to be as efficient as possible with their money.”
The most difficult decisions for prosecutors on deciding whether to make a plea offer, Miller said, involve children who have been the victims of rape or other offenses of violence.
“As a prosecutor and as a human being, you try to balance the need to punish an offender versus doing even further harm to a child,” Miller said. “These are really tough situations, ones where you have to ask yourself, ‘How can I fashion a resolution that both protects society and protects the kids?’”
Miller said the Allen County Prosecutors Office is “very careful” in selecting which cases get submitted for grand jury consideration. That due diligence on the front end of the legal process has resulted in a high conviction rate for the office, he said.
“We have a saying around our office, and you’ll hear these words said out loud over and over: ‘Do the right things to the right people for the right reasons,’” Miller said. “That’s what drives our decisions. What are we doing? Why are we doing it and who are we doing it to?
“It’s not an exact science. This is a tough job, and sometimes you’ve got to make tough calls,” Miller said. “I wish the public could see what all goes into it. It’s a thoughtful process.”