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DIGGING DEEPER: Prosecutors say plea deals often provide best outcome

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TUCSON - It's not all that uncommon in Pima County to hear about defendants leading guilty to charges in criminal cases.

In fact, according to the Pima County Attorney's Office, they plead out 95% of the cases that come into their office.

A plea agreement reduces the charges against a suspect in exchange for them pleading guilty or no contest. Part of the reason is to avoid going to trial and not breaking the bank.

"If we don't want roads or schools then maybe we would just dump all of our money into the criminal justice system," said Pima County Attorney's Chief Criminal Deputy Jonathan Mosher.

While not talking about one specific case, Mosher says we all want roads, schools, and other services so choices need to be made.

"We have a criminal justice system that works well by resolving those cases that can be resolved without a trial which is necessarily more expensive," Mosher told the Digging Deeper team.

According to data from the Rand Corporation, since 2007 U.S. taxpayers have provided $50 billion annually for court prosecution, public defense of all types of criminal cases.

But it's not just about saving tax dollars. Plea agreements also guarantee the accused will be held accountable, thus avoiding the possibility a jury may find them not guilty.

That is something Nohemy Hite took to heart, when she agreed to a plea deal from the man who killed her husband.

"I was afraid he was going to walk out," Hite told News 4 Tucson.

Noehmy's husband, Tucson Police officer Erik Hite, was killed in the line of duty by a crazed gunman in 2008. The thought of man responsible for his death back on the streets was too much to bear for his widow.

"I didn't want to know he was free you know on the streets back in society where my husband had sworn to be protecting and had lost his life protecting it," Hite told News 4 Tucson.

Nick Delich pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and aggravated assault to avoid the death penalty.

"That was enough for me to know that he was never going to walk out free back into our community," Hite said.

Delich was sentenced to life in prison. Currently, he is in the Arizona State Hospital, where he's diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. If he is ever rehabilitated, he will be transferred to prison, where he will remain until he dies.

While the plea agreement worked for her, Hite tells News 4 Tucson she believes the system is broken.

"Not holding people accountable with plea deals - they're not always the right thing to do for the family for the kind of crime that has been committed," Hite told the Digging Deeper team.

Mosher added, they always talk to the victims about the pros and cons of taking a case to trial vs. a plea agreement. He said sometimes it is the best thing that can happen and sometime it is the harshest thing that could happen

Lupita Murillo

Lupita Murillo is an investigative reporter. She is part of the Digging Deeper team that uncovers important issues focusing on crime that affects the community.

Paul Birmingham

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