What is meant by plea bargaining and when will it come into play?

Plea bargaining

Plea-bargaining is a process which occurs in relation to criminal offences whereby the offender agrees to plead guilty to a lesser sentence without the need of going through the whole process in the trial to prove that they are in fact guilty. Plea bargaining will most often occur in the following scenarios:

  • Testimony against a co-conspirator

  • Where a lesser charge is offered due to the difficulty of proving the greater charge

Testimony against a co-conspirator

The process of plea bargaining is one which is primarily used by prosecutors to secure the testimony of an individual accused of a crime against a co-conspirator who has been charged with a more serious crime.

In many circumstances an individual will be able to negotiate a reduced sentence by pleading guilty to a lesser charge in exchange for agreeing to certain conditions which will often vary depending upon the circumstances of the case.

Plea bargaining in this scenario will often occur when the evidence against an individual is overwhelming.

Why is this regarded as a desirable position?

This is regarded as a desirable position by the individual charged with the crime as they will be able to be provided with a lesser sentence as they are charged for the lesser offence for which they pleaded guilty to. It is also viewed as a desirable position by the Criminal Justice System as it enables them to sentence a co-conspirator who is more likely to be charged with a much more serious crime.

Difficulty of proving a greater charge

In certain cases such as rape the prosecution may secure a guilty plea and a charge for a lesser offence than rape such as sexual assault and in other cases offences which are not sexual but which may have occurred as part of the attack such as a violent attack.

Why is this regarded as a desirable position?

This would be regarded as a desirable position for the accused as they would be able to be charged with a lesser crime than rape and would serve a smaller prison sentence. It may be regarded as a desirable position by the criminal justice system as it removes the requirement to prove lack of consent in the rape case – something which is often difficult to prove in court. The individual may not get a sentence as long as they would if proven guilty of rape but at least they would be able to secure some form of sentence for them.

The different types of plea bargain

Plea bargains can usually be differentiated into the two following types:

  1. A charge plea bargain will enable an accused individual to plead guilty to a lesser crime than the one he is charges with – in most cases falling into one of the two categories outlined above.

  2. A sentence plea bargain occurs when a judge informs a defendant of what sentence he will receive if he pleads guilty – it is then up to the defendant to accept or reject the plea bargain.

What should an individual who has agreed to a plea bargain ensure happens?

An individual who has agreed to a plea bargain should do the following things to ensure that the plea bargain actually happens:

Firstly they should ensure with the help of their lawyer that the time and the date when the plea bargain was made are stated on the documents which outline the terms of the deal. The lawyer defending the individual who is the subject of the plea bargain should negotiate and review all the terms of the plea bargain before it is agreed in writing

Reference to the written plea should be made during court proceedings – this will ensure that the existence of the plea bargain will become a matter of court record. Simply mentioning it is enough without the exact terms and conditions stated in the plea bargain being required to be stated in court

An individual who is the subject of a plea bargain should always act in accordance with the terms of the plea bargain which will often require testimony in court amongst other things

Has the process of plea bargaining come in for criticism?

Recently the process of plea bargaining has come in for criticism in relation to the two following areas:

  1. Rape convictions

  2. Arms dealing

Rape convictions

The process of plea bargaining described above in relation to rape cases has come in for some criticism when faced with the actual figures for people being convicted of rape who a charge of rape is initially brought against. In certain circles it is felt that the courts are too ready to accept a guilty plea for a lesser charge to remove the requirement of proving consent. This is little consolation for the victims of the crime who have suffered such a terrible ordeal and see the offender being sentenced to a much lesser jail term than the one which they feel they deserve. Furthermore, it may not also be a desirable position to see individuals who may be guilty of rape able to walk the streets at a much earlier time than the sentence for rape would allow.

Arms dealing

Furthermore recently high profile companies found to have been selling arms and weapons illegally have been able to agree lesser sentences in addition to paying huge sums of money to the state – this is a decision which has come in for heavy criticism from campaign groups.