We are all aware of the backlog of cases in Courts. Presenting solutions to this is the need of the hour. One such solution is ‘plea-bargaining’. I shall explain this in some depth here.
There are three types of plea-bargaining –
- Charge Bargaining
- Sentence Bargaining
- Fact Bargaining.
Here, the defendant pleads guilty to charges whose magnitude is lesser than the offence he is put on trial for. For example, in murder cases, the plea bargain usually offered is manslaughter (in the UK) In India, for example a case of rape could be reduced to one of outraging the modesty of a woman. It occurs when defendant pleads guilty to necessarily included offences.
In sentence bargaining, for the defendant’s pleading of guilt even before the case is proven, a lighter sentence is offered. In the US they can be granted only if it is approved so by the trial judge. It sometimes occurs in high profile cases, where the prosecutor does not want to reduce the charges against the suspect, mostly it is due to apprehension of how the media would react.
Here, the defendant may admit to some facts in the court, with an agreement with the prosecutor so as to not introduce other facts in the case. This eliminates the prosecutor’s job to prove those facts. This is the least used type of plea bargaining.
It almost always takes more time and effort to bring a case to trial than to negotiate and handle a plea bargain. There may be other benefits as well such as:
- Getting Out of Jail
- Resolving the Matter Quickly
- Having Fewer or Less Serious Offences on One’s Record
- Avoiding Publicity
For a Judge, the concept of plea bargain is beneficial, as he may dispose of cases more quickly and efficiently and before. Also, the problem of over-crowding in jails would get resolved. The constitutional obligation of a speedy trial and an appropriate sentence could well be achieved by such measures being undertaken. Now remains the important question of how victims would be addressed by plea-bargaining. Victims should be given adequate compensation. Plea bargaining saves the victim from giving uncomfortable evidence, and also the un-pleasantness of having the crime discussed deeply in court. Also the system of plea-bargaining assures the victim of justice and is a win-win situation for all.
In the US, plea bargaining has become much like the norm, than to have the accused subject to the trial of a jury. The jury vote could swing either way, but a plea bargain is a fixed and good alternative way. It has become habit for lawyers to use this in trials where a jury dead-lock is most possible.
In India, on January 11th, 2006, Section 173 of CrPC was amended to bring about Plea Bargaining. The conditions imposed on plea-bargain are as follows –
One reason plea bargain is favoured is that it allows criminals who accept responsibility for their actions to receive consideration for their remorse and for not causing limited resources to be expended in further investigating and litigating their case Plea bargaining also allows prosecutors to settle cases without forcing a victim to endure a lengthy court process or have to testify in a jury trial.
References – ‘Plea Bargaining’, available at the website of Maharashtra State Legal Services Authority. The points marked  and  are taken directly. Everything else is my analysis.
I hope this article has made the concept clear to you.
Batch of 2015, NALSAR.