Plea bargaining is a commonly used prosecutorial method to dispose of a case without going to trial. A plea bargain or negotiated plea is an agreement between the defense and the prosecutor in which a defendant pleads guilty to a criminal charge and in exchange he expects to receive some form of consideration from the state. (Neubauer, 2002, p. 323) Most cases never make it to trial, more than 80 percent of criminal cases filed ended with the defendant entering a guilty plea. (Fagin, 2003, p. 61)
Plea bargaining became common sometime after the Civil War. The proliferation of cases, in the federal courts, brought on by prohibition was instrumental in the institutionalization of plea bargaining. (Neubauer, 2002, p. 323) It was not until the sixties that plea bargaining became a topic of controversy. This controversy seems to stem from the fact that the name suggests that the courts are bargaining with criminals. But "much of what is characterized as 'plea bargaining' often involves the assessment and reassessment of facts...." (Nasheri, 1998, p. 24) After examining all the facts the conclusion might be that there is just not enough evidence to win at trial.
The police and victims are the most likely to object to the negotiated plea because they feel the defendant is not being punished severely enough. The police work hard to collect evidence and securing witnesses to help with the conviction and would like to see the offender prosecuted on the more serious charges. The victim, on the other hand, wants the same thing but for a somewhat different reason, which would be "for revenge or retribution or just the satisfaction that justice has prevailed." (Fagin, 2003, p. 309) In spite of the reasons against plea bargaining, it is still being used. Why is that?
There are several reasons why a prosecutor, judge and defendant would want to negotiate a plea agreement. For a judge his incentive would be to move along a crowded calendar. Another issue is the fact that jails are overcrowded and they do not want to be faced with the idea of releasing convicted people before their sentence is completed in order to accommodate the recently convicted one. Judges see plea bargaining as a way to 'process out' the less serious offenders.
For the defendant, the benefits include a more lenient sentence. If the defendant is denied or cannot afford bail they could be released immediately if a judge accepts the plea. Also, taking a case to trial usually means they would have to wait and that can be stressful, so one would want to resolve the matter as quickly as possible. Another plus is they would have a lesser charge on their record as opposed to a more serious one and since most employers would not hire you with a felony conviction, it would definitely be beneficial to plea to a misdemeanor.
As to the prosecutors, they do not have the resources available to them to take every good case to trial. So they then turn to plea bargaining as a way to deliver justice efficiently. (p. 61) The prosecutor's office has the responsibility of trial preparation and also has to shoulder the costs that are associated with obtaining evidence and interviewing witnesses among other pretrial preparations. (p. 309) Therefore, the prosecutor will then select which case to take to trial and which to plead out. This is based on whether he thinks he has sufficient evidence to prove every element of the charge. Also, he might not have complete confidence in the witnesses' testimony or there is a chance the victim might refuse to cooperate at the last minute. Prosecutors also use plea bargaining to reward a cooperating defendant. (Neubauer, 2002, p. 330)
A plea negotiation can be initiated by the prosecutor or the defense attorney. And the process can start anywhere after arraignment and will continue up until the jury comes back with a verdict. The center of the bargaining can be the charges, the counts or the sentence. In charge bargaining, "the...
References: Acker, J.R. & Brody, D.C. (1999). Criminal Procedure: A Contemporary Perspective. Maryland: Aspen Publishers, Inc.
Fagin, J.A. (2003). Criminal Justice. New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc.
McCoy, C. (1993). Politics and Plea Bargaining. Pennsylvania: The University of Pennsylvania Press.
Nasheri, H. (1998). Betrayal of Due Process. Maryland: University Press of America, Inc.
Neubauer, D.W. (2002). America 's Courts and The Criminal Justice System. California: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning.
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