A plea bargain is an agreement made in a criminal court whereby the defendant if offered a chance to plead guilty by the prosecutor. By doing this, the defendant is sentenced to a lesser charge or he may be prosecuted to the original charge but not a maximum sentence. A plea bargain bestows the wrongdoer with a chance to keep away from the conviction of a severe charge. By pleading guilty, the work of the prosecutor is made easier and in turn, the defendant is convicted to a lesser charge than he would be if the prosecutor took his time to gather all the evidence required to prove that the defendant is guilty. For instance, if a criminal defendant is charged with an offense of burglary, a plea bargain gives him an opportunity to evade being imprisoned in state prison, and instead, his conviction may not even carry jail time.
As a plea bargain provides a good opportunity for the defendant, it makes the work of defense attorneys more difficult. They are faced with a dilemma on whether to continue with the prosecutor’s promise to the defendant or give their own ruling concerning a felony. However, if they chose to go against the prosecutor, they may not be able to maintain a good relationship with him which might be of importance in future cases. In most cases, the defense attorney chooses to side with the prosecutor for the deal made with the present client to maintain this good relationship (Kipnis,1979)
There are four different types of plea bargains; charge bargaining, count bargaining, sentence bargaining, and fact bargaining. In charge bargaining, the scandalous wrongdoer does not accept responsibility for the main charge but to a slighter crime. In count agreement, the unlawful defendant accepts responsibility to many partitions of the main charge. Sentence bargaining permits the defendant to be acquainted with the sentence to which he will be convicted after pleading guilty; nevertheless, the adjudicator may choose to refute the defendant that sentence. Last but not least, in fact, bargaining, the defendants plead guilty after making conformity with the prosecutor with reference to the particulars that affect the sentence of the defendant.
Plea bargaining is normally criticized in many parts of the world, apart from the United States. Many critics argue that plea bargain’s close relationship with compensations, intimidation and compulsion interferes with the ethics of the legal system. At times, prosecutors coerce the defendants to agree to their offers and this infringes the rights of the individual. In many cases, plea bargains leave the defendant in a dilemma and this is the reason why it is not allowed in many countries (Kipnis, 1979). Apart from interfering with the ethics of the legal system and prisoner’s dilemma, a plea bargain is also criticized on the grounds that, it does not necessarily reduce the costs involved in administering justice.
In several cases, plea bargaining takes place before the trial, but in some cases, it may take place during the trial process, but before the judge’s judgment. It may also be used after a trial where the judge renders a hung jury. The parties involved may opt for a plea bargain instead of going through the whole process of another trial. The legality of a plea bargain is based on three factors; the first one is, understanding of waiver of rights, the second is a voluntary waiver, and the last refers to the base on which the prosecutor can sustain the charges that the defendant is charged with. A plea bargain can either occur through the telephone or in the office of the prosecutor inside the courtroom. In many cases, the presence of the judge is not required except in cases where circumstances require the view of the judge.
If the adjudicator agrees to a plea bargain it is positioned on documentation in the court. The defendant must be in attendance in all these procedures. It is worth noting that, the attorney responsible for the prosecution does not have any authority to force the judge to accept the plea bargain made between the defendant and the prosecutor. Normally, the court takes time to verify whether a plea bargain has taken into consideration the three components mentioned above before accepting it. In addition, plea bargains may not be as easy as they appear. In negotiating for a plea bargain, the prosecutor must be technically knowledgeable of all the elements involved in the crime; he must show his understanding of all the evidence available concerning the crime or potential evidence.
Even though plea bargains are normally criticized in many countries, virtually all criminal cases are convicted through negotiated pleas. Only less than 10% of criminal cases go through the whole process of trial. Many judges accept plea bargains in a bid to alleviate the need for holding a trial since there are so many cases waiting to be convicted. There is also the issue of overcrowding in prisons and many judges agree to the bargains to lessen this problem. Through plea bargains, prosecutors enjoy a lighter caseload (Fisher 2004). More outstandingly, is the way plea bargains assure conviction even for lesser crimes. There is no case that is concluded even if the evidence is so strong. As a matter of fact, many are times when a prosecutor is defeated even after going through extensive and costly trials. In addition, prosecutors may rely on the use of plea bargains in order to further their case in cases involving two defendants.
Plea bargaining has been used in the criminal justice system for a long period of time, yet it is hardly praised. It is often upsetting since it can not be regarded as success for all the parties implicated. Some of the parties, that is, the defendants may be coerced into accepting the agreements even when they do not want to. In addition, prosecutors are unenthusiastic to propose lighter sentences other than those endorsed by law to recognized criminals. The assessment of prosecutors is founded on their conviction rates; for that reason they find themselves using plea bargains in order to win (Grossman & Katz, 1983). Many critics argue that, prosecutors are using their position to overcharge so as to pressurize guilty pleas from defendants and this denies the defendant his procedural rights for a trial process. This practice of overcharging is not allowed in courts. Nonetheless, many courts are loath to stop prosecutors from presenting cases that are sustained by plausible causes.
In plea bargaining, the prosecutors have a right to pull out offers even after presenting them to the defendant. On the other hand, a defendant is not obligated to agree to the prosecutor’s offer and he can decline to accept it. It has been found that in numerous of the cases where the prosecutor has pulled out his proposal to the defendant or where the defendant has discarded the plea bargain, and the case goes on to trial, the defendant is sentenced to harsh sentences than the ones the prosecutor had offered if he is found guilty (Grossman & Katz, 1983). This implies that, a plea bargain is beneficial to the defendant, the prosecutor and the criminal system. The defendant benefits from a lesser sentence while the prosecutor benefits from a reduced trial time and his chances of wining a case are increased.
Declining resources in the criminal system have driven more upsetting criminals to the justice system. The demand for institutional beds and out-of-home residency is mounting. A case in point is the large proportions of criminal held in custody in a number of large prisons pending the accessibility of foster or group home beds. If plea bargaining is accepted in the modern justice system, the problem of overcrowding in prison, as it is apparent today, can be solved. Also the problem of proceedings is apt to augment in the future as correctional facilities face population increases, crowding, and poor conditions. Proceedings concerning criminal inmates have also dealt with the conditions of incarceration, and courts have ruled that the state of affairs in some facilities do comprise brutal and strange punishment. Although many critics do not agree to plea bargaining, it is clear that is it can be used to solve the current problems faced by the criminal system. It benefits all the parties involved; the defendant, the prosecutor, and the justice system. However, it can not be applied in all court cases because some crimes are very serious and the defendant should be subjected to the sentences authorized by law.
Fisher, G. (2004). Plea bargaining’s triumph: a history of plea bargaining in America. New York: Stanford University Press.
Grossman, G. M. and Katz, M. L. (1983). “Plea bargaining and social welfare”, The American Economic Review (The American Economic Review) 73 (4): 749–757.
Kipnis, K. (1979). Plea Bargaining: A Critic’s Rejoinder, 13, Law & Soc’y Rev., pp. 555.