Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Essay on Plea Bargaining
Plea bargaining is essentially an agreement between the prosecutor and the accused in which the accused pleads guilty in exchange for a lesser sentence or a reduced charge. It is a recognized procedure in the criminal justice system which aims to reduce the clogging of cases in court. It is said that aside from the plea bargaining, the criminal justice system, state laws and the US Constitution provides the accused with different legal defenses which he can use to avoid conviction or to relieve him from criminal liability. These defenses are negative defenses such as the denial of the crime or affirmative defenses such as by admitting the crime but alleging circumstances such as self-defense, insanity, provocation, violation of the right against unreasonable search and seizure, double jeopardy and even violation of the right against self-incrimination. Despite the rights granted under the US Constitution in favor of the accused – right to be presumed innocent until guilt is proven beyond reasonable doubt; right to be tried by a jury; and the right to an impartial judge – the accused often relies on plea bargaining. As a result, statistics say that majority of the cases now are being disposed by plea bargaining with only ten percent (10%) of the accused getting the benefits of their constitutional rights. Whether the plea bargaining is advantageous or advantageous will normally depend on the unique and peculiar circumstances of the case and if he is the accused, the prosecution, the victim or the courts. There is no hard-and-fast rule in determining who benefits and who does not benefit from plea bargaining.
For an accused who committed the crime and who thinks that the prosecution has gathered enough evidence against him to ensure his conviction, plea bargaining is a gift which he must take advantage of at the very first instance it was offered to him by the prosecution (p.287). The reason is that for a person who is indeed guilty of the crime and who thinks that he cannot escape conviction because of overwhelming evidence, admitting to a lesser crime with lesser penalties will be the best scenario for him. He gets the benefit of immediate disposition of his case since he no longer needs to hire lawyers to defend him in court. While it is true that existing laws mandate that an accused should be defended by a public attorney in case he does not have a lawyer, the practical reality is that only paid lawyers can competently and adequately defend the accused and that public attorneys do not defend their client’s case to the best of their ability. Moreover, the accused also gets the benefit of lesser time in prison as it is implicit in the arrangement that if he agrees to a lesser crime charged he shall be convicted to a lesser penalty. If he behaves properly in prison his sentence may be further reduced for good behavior and he may find himself out of prison.
However, for an accused who did not commit the crime and who is innocent for the crime charged, availing of plea bargaining is not the best option for him. Every person has rights. It must be stressed that accusation is not synonymous with guilt. It does not follow that he is guilty for the crime just because a criminal case was filed against him. He is still entitled to the existing rights under the law such as the presumption of innocence, the right to due process, and the right to be heard in court. In addition, even if the accused admits to committing the crime, there are other legal and valid defenses under the law which he can use to avoid conviction. One of these defenses is the self-defense or defense of a relative which are valid defenses. In these cases, even if a crime has committed the law justifies the action thereby relieving him from criminal liability. Other defenses include excuse defenses such as insanity which relieves the accused from criminal liability because of lack of intelligence and intent on the pat of the accused at the time of the commission of the crime. Moreover the US Constitution also provides for countless defenses which the accused may use to avoid conviction. Among these rights are right against self-incrimination, the right against unreasonable search and seizure, the right to be informed of Miranda Rights, the right against ex post facto law, or the right against double jeopardy. By agreeing to plea bargaining, the accused in effect is deprived of these rights to which he is entitled (p.286).
For the victim or the injured party or the relatives of the victim or the injured party, plea bargaining may be advantageous for them. They get the benefit of immediate conviction without having to spend so much time, money and effort just so justice can be served. Risk of losing case after years of trial is also avoided. Moreover, the immediate disposition of their case helps in giving them closure which gives them the opportunity to finally move on with their lives and forget the crime.
For the prosecution, plea bargaining is advantageous for them. They can the benefit of immediate conviction. This conviction appears on their resume as a win for them. If an accused agrees to plea bargaining, the case ends and for the prosecution they have done their job. Risk of losing a case, if it proceeds to trial, is likewise avoided. Moreover, disposing those cases where the accused is clearly guilty, gives them the opportunity to concentrate on other cases where issues of facts and issues of law are disputed.
For the courts, plea bargaining is definitely advantageous for them. When an accused agrees to plea bargaining, conviction immediately follows. The judge or jury does not have to spend time and effort in hearing cases in which the guilt of the accused is apparent. It also helps in reducing the number of cases already filed in court. This gives the judges more time to concentrate on other cases which are already pending in their court. Experience has shown that in other cases which prohibits plea bargaining, the administration of justice suffers as court cases are clogged, trial is lengthened and more accused suffers.
Plea bargaining is an evil in the criminal justice system but it is a necessary evil. The system may be loathsome and obnoxious but it has become part of the criminal justice system. Doing away with it will only cause more problems. Over-reliance to plea bargaining is also not advisable. It is suggested that plea bargaining of cases should be closely monitored so that only those cases which the guilt of the accused is clearly apparent should be subject of plea bargaining.