Implications of Plea Bargaining

What are the implications of plea-bargaining for the notion of justice for the accused, the victim, the community and efficiency of the court process?

A plea bargain is any agreement in a criminal case between the prosecutor and defendant whereby the defendant agrees to plead guilty to a particular charge in return for some concession from the prosecutor. This may mean that the defendant will plead guilty to a less serious charge, or to one of several charges, in return for the dismissal of other charges; or it may mean that the defendant will plead guilty to the original criminal charge in return for a more lenient sentence. A plea bargain allows both parties to avoid a lengthy sentence and may allow criminal defendants to avoid the risk of conviction at trial on a more serious charge. For example, in the U.S. legal system, a criminal defendant charged with a felony theft charge, the conviction of which would require imprisonment in state prison, may be offered the opportunity to plead guilty to a misdemeanor theft charge, which may not carry a custodial sentence.

For the defendant, the most significant benefit to plea-bargaining is to take away the uncertainty of a criminal trial and to avoid the maximum sentence. This also prevents the trauma of the whole court experience. When a plea bargain is achieved, often not all evidence is presented, which means the accused can get away with things that may not be brought up as they have already agreed to a plea bargain. On the negative side, if a plea bargain is reached, the accused cannot plead innocent, which is often a result of being pressured into pleading guilty for a ‘plea bargain’. This sees many innocent people agreeing to a plea bargain out of fear of being found guilty of a crime they didn’t actually commit. Some attorneys and judges also argue that plea-bargaining is unconstitutional because it takes away a defendant’s constitutional right to a trial by jury. If the defendant is coerced or pressured...