In the wake of the Beatrice Six case, the wrongful convictions of six men and women in Beatrice, Nebraska in a 1985 murder and rape case (five of the defendants plead guilty, four of whom had falsely confessed), Gage County Attorney Randall Ritnour has come up with a solution. Beginning February 1, Ritnour has vowed that his office will no longer offer or accept plea bargains. Ritnour said he will not reduce or dismiss felony charges once they have been filed against a defendant in return for a guilty plea. The only reason he would accept a guilty plea to lesser charges would be if the evidence implicating the person changed in a significant way. Ritnour is sounding all of the right notes, selling this reform by promising to more carefully screen cases to prevent overcharging, one of the key problems with unfair plea bargaining but I can't help but think that this reform sidesteps the major lessons of the Beatrice Six case. The defendants in Beatrice did not plead guilty because of overcharging, they pled guilty because police officers and psychologists acting as agents for the police coerced four defendants into confessing to crimes they did not commit. These officers clearly fed details of the murder and rape to the suspects to make their confessions appear credible and then induced the suspects to confess by threatening them with the death penalty if they did not. In other words, the interrogations themselves were a form of plea-bargaining. There are many problems with plea bargaining, including prosecutorial abuse of the process by overcharging and harsh mandatory sentencing schemes that give guilty and innocence defendants little choice but to plead in order to minimize their exposure, but here's hoping that the Beatrice Six case causes Ritnour (who was not the prosecutor at the time of the confessions) to insist that all interrogations of suspects be electronically recorded (a new Nebraska law will require this in serious cases), that he and his deputies and local police officers receive training in the subject matter of false confessions, that he require that confessions be corroborated before charging defendants or proceeding to trial, and that he have a heart to heart with the officers who are investigating the cases about their interrogation tactics. One more thing to consider -- the threat of the death penalty was a key reason why some of these defendants falsely confessed (just as it was in the earlier Murdock, Nebraska false confession of Matthew Livers). Perhaps, Ritnour should consider supporting the abolition of the death penalty in Nebraska, or, at the very least, a policy forbidding police officers in the state from mentioning it during interrogations.