Plea bargaining occurs when the prosecuting attorney and the defendant agree that the accused should accept they are guilty in a specific charge and the attorney to reduce the charges or the sentence they had requested the jury. It is necessary to note that plea bargaining only applies in criminal cases. As a result of a plea bargain, the accused accepts guilt in a lesser charge than the one they had been accused of. For example, a plea bargain would result in the defendant pleading guilty to manslaughter when in the first instance they had been accused of murder. In return for the defendant’s acceptance of guilt, the prosecuting attorney reduces the charges facing the accused.
Advantages of Plea Bargaining
The advent of plea bargaining was the need to avoid long law suits which were costly to their various states. As a result, there is a reduction in the budgetary requirement of criminal justice departments within the concerned state.
Plea bargains are also advantageous to the defendant as they reduce the uncertainty of the accused not knowing what the jury will decide. In the example mentioned above, a defendant who knows there is compelling evidence that they committed murder would benefit from a plea bargain as it reduces their chances of receiving capital punishment.
On the other hand, plea bargains help reduce the amount of workload that prosecuting attorneys have to perform. This is because with reduced trial length, the prosecutors can work on more cases within a short period than is the case when plea bargaining is not applied.
Plea bargaining also helps in decongesting state prisons since some of the crimes the defendants plead guilty to do not carry any jail time. For example, a person facing charges of a felony burglary may accept guilt in a misdemeanor burglary, which does not require imprisonment. Decongesting prisons helps reduce the wear and tear of prison facilities, which consequently reduces amount of money used on repairs and expanding prisons.
Disadvantages of Plea Bargaining
A key limitation of plea bargaining is that in some cases an innocent defendant is forced to plead guilty to a crime just to reduce the risk of suffering more serious charges. Plea bargaining is also disadvantageous in that it in some cases it has led to weak investigation by the prosecution and the police because they know that they can get the defendant to admit guilt in another charge. As a result, most prosecutors become more focused on getting a plea bargain than on building their cases. This subsequently leads to a weakened justice system that is oblivious of the legal requirement for a fair trial.
Several legal experts are of the opinion that plea bargaining is against the principles of justice upheld in the constitution. This is because a plea bargain denies the accused their constitutional right to have their trial decided by a jury. This argument is based on the knowledge that some prosecutors and police officers coerce defendants to accept plea bargains.
Alternatives to Plea Bargaining
As previously stated, plea bargaining was necessitated by the need to reduce the amount of spending on court trials. However, it is recommendable that criminal justice systems in various states seek to reduce crime and not just the spending on court trials. Several states that have adopted youth programs have noted reduced crime rates which consequently results in less budgetary allocation to the justice system. Other alternatives include increasing the frequency of police patrols. States like Texas have increased the number of patrols and have recorded reduced crime rates. The suggestion to reduce crime rate instead of just focusing on plea bargaining is essential since the latter does not deter crime. Legal experts argue that some plea bargaining may encourage criminals to commit felonies since they are aware they can always plead to a lesser charge.