Last week, the Mr. Wings & Pizza murder trial ended abruptly with the defendant, Vincent Bunner, entering a guilty plea.
Mr. Bunner pleaded guilty to two counts of felony murder and the use of a handgun in the commission of a felony.
If Mr. Bunner had been convicted at trial he faced the potential of being sentenced to consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole. As part of the plea agreement entered into with the State, Mr. Bunner will be sentenced to two concurrent life sentences with the possibility of parole in addition to the possibility of an additional 20 year sentence for the handgun charge.
The circumstances leading up to this plea are certainly unusual. Most plea negotiations take place prior to the beginning of trial. However, the discovery of potentially damaging testimony from a Deputy Anne Arundel County Sheriff regarding statements Mr. Bunner made in the courthouse appears to have greatly altered the dynamic of the case so as to force Mr. Bunner to enter a guilty plea.
The issue of plea bargains is often used in election years to attack incumbent prosecutors running for reelection. The percentage of cases that end in guilty pleas is high. By my estimation well over 90 percent of cases that result in a conviction are as a result of guilty pleas.
As a former prosecutor and now as a criminal defense attorney, I have first-hand experience as to how guilty pleas can play a critical and necessary role in the court system.
First, the courts do not have the resources or manpower to conduct trials in every case. For instance, an ordinary District Court docket will have anywhere from 20-30 cases each morning and afternoon. Due to the length of the docket and depending on the nature and complexity of a case, the court might only be able to hear one or two trials per docket.
Second, getting a defendant to plead guilty is good for the State. For cases involving egregious criminal activity a plea agreement will often include a lengthy period of incarceration. For misdemeanor cases or other lesser criminal activity the defendant is often placed on probation where his or her conduct will be monitored for a period of time.
The term "plea bargain" itself makes it sound as if a defendant has receiving some type of great deal. More often than not a plea deal between the State and a defendant helps to protect the public in general while enticing the defendant to relinquish his or her constitutional right to a trial.
Securing convictions is the job of any prosecutor. Ensuring that a defendant pleads guilty to a criminal offense is often viewed as a successful outcome for the State and its citizens.
As it relates to the Bunner case, one can see that this was a reasonable plea that serves the purpose of both the State and Mr. Bunner. The State has secured convictions in two top counts of murder as well as a handgun offense while ensuring that a person who is perceived to be a danger to society is incarcerated and off of the streets.
As for Mr. Bunner, by being eligible for parole he has some hope, at the young age of 18, of perhaps being released from jail later in life.