Statesman failed to report that Ritter plea-bargain rate is near national average

››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

Colorado Statesman reporter Terry Scanlon reported a claim by the campaign manager of Rep. Bob Beauprez that his gubernatorial race opponent, Bill Ritter, "plea bargained 97 percent of his cases." But Scanlon failed to inform readers that the plea-bargain percentage Marshall cited for Ritter is similar to the national average.

In a July 28 article about the Colorado gubernatorial race between former Denver district attorney Bill Ritter (D) and Rep. Bob Beauprez (R-Arvada), Colorado Statesman reporter Terry Scanlon wrote that Beauprez campaign manager John Marshall charged that Ritter "has taken a soft on crime approach in Denver" and that Marshall said, in Scanlon's words, "Ritter plea bargained 97 percent of his cases." But Scanlon failed to inform readers that the plea-bargain percentage Marshall cited for Ritter is similar to the national average.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), in 2002, 95 percent of state court felony convictions were obtained through plea agreements. In addition, the BJS reported that in 2003, 72,110 of 74,850 federal criminal convictions (96 percent) resulted from plea agreements.

As Colorado Media Matters has previously noted, other news outlets have also repeated the suggestion by Ritter's opponents that Ritter is "soft on crime" because of his plea-bargain rate without comparing it to national statistics. By contrast, The Gazette of Colorado Springs reported in a July 27 article about the attacks on Ritter that "[t]he Department of Justice reports that 95 percent of state felony convictions are obtained through plea agreements":

"Obviously, the lengthy record of plea bargains will be a point of debate with regard to Bill Ritter's career," said Alan Philp, executive director of the Trailhead Group.

Philp's organization is backed by key GOP leaders, including Pete Coors and Bruce Benson, and charged with helping Republican candidates in Colorado. It recently received $500,000 from the Republican Governors Association.

Trailhead last week began running radio attack ads criticizing Ritter for pleabargaining 97 percent of his felony cases.

[...]

Ritter said criticism of his office's plea bargain rate is unfounded. He said the rate is on par with national averages.

The Department of Justice reports that 95 percent of state felony convictions are obtained through plea agreements.

According to its website, The Colorado Statesman describes itself as a "weekly nonpartisan political newspaper" that "focuses its in-depth coverage on local and statewide politics, including the Colorado Legislature, state government, public policy issues, campaigns and elections, the state's political parties, and the people and personalities behind them."

From Scanlon's July 28 Colorado Statesman article, "Beauprez, Ritter boast law enforcement support":

quote from The Colorado Statesman

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