Plea bargain

From Academic Kids

A plea bargain is an agreement in a criminal case in which a prosecutor and a defendant arrange to settle the case against the defendant. The defendant agrees to plead guilty or no contest (and often allocute) in exchange for some concession from the prosecutor. This concession can include reducing the original charge or charges, dismissing some of the charges against the defendant or limiting the punishment a court can impose on the defendant. Generally, a plea bargain allows the parties to agree on the outcome and settle the pending charge. In colloquial terms this is known as "copping a plea".

Plea bargaining is a significant part of the criminal justice system in the United States—the vast majority of criminal cases in the United States are settled by plea bargain rather than by a jury trial. Plea bargains are subject to the approval of the court.

In some common law jurisdictions, such as England and Wales, Victoria, Australia, plea bargaining is permitted only to the extent that the prosecutors and the defense can agree that the defendant will plead guilty to some charges and the prosecutor will drop the remainder. The courts in these jurisdictions have made it plain that they will always decide what the appropriate penalty is to be. No bargaining takes place over the penalty.

Pros and cons of plea bargaining

The reasons for plea bargaining by either side may be several. In most cases, the plea bargain is to avoid the uncertainty of the jury trial, and minimize the risk of undesirable results for either side. Prosecutors generally have wide discretion regarding the charges they may bring, and therefore tend to charge the defendant with the most extreme charges that are applicable to the situation at hand. Thus in a plea bargain, the defendant is left to choose between the certainty of accepting sentencing for a much less serious charge, or the uncertainty of a jury trial in which the defendant might be found not guilty, but which also carries the risk of being found guilty of the original, more serious charges.

In other cases, a defendant may be culpable in one criminal matter, but have information that would help in prosecuting a broader or more significant matter. In such a case, prosecutors may agree to reduced charges or sentencing in the first matter, in exchange for the defendant's cooperation (e.g. testimony) in prosecuting the larger matter.

In still other cases, prosecutors may be certain of the guilt of the defendant in a matter, but the evidence may not be enough to convince a jury of the defendant's guilt. It is of benefit to both the prosecutor and the defendant to arrange a plea bargain — this avoids the chance that the defendant could be found not guilty (which is unfavorable to the prosecutor) or be found guilty of serious charges (which is unfavorable to the defendant).

Plea bargaining also allows prosecutors to settle cases without forcing a victim to endure a lengthy court process or having to testify in a jury trial.

Plea bargaining also helps courts and prosecutors manage caseloads. In the United States, defendants have a right to a speedy trial under both the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution as well as by statute. The meaning of "speedy" is not fixed in terms of a specified amount of time but is determined according to the circumstances. However, if the speedy trial is not held, the case is dismissed and the defendant cannot again be charged with the crime. By plea bargaining, prosecutors can reduce the number of cases set for trial so that cases do not get dismissed.

Thus it has been argued that the American criminal justice system would simply cease to function without plea bargaining, and that it forms a framework wherein the accused and his accusers can reach an agreement which settles the case once and for all, in what is hoped will be a spirit of fairness.

Critics of the system point out that the plea bargain system puts strong pressure on defendants to plead to crimes that they know that they did not commit, and that the outcome of a plea bargain may depend strongly on the negotiating skills and personal demeanor of the defense lawyer, which puts persons who can afford good lawyers at an advantage.

Furthermore, the system encourages prosecutors to overcharge at the start of a case which leads to caseload pressures or unusually severe penalties; e.g., Lionel Tate. Finally, many jurists, especially in civil law nations, find the notion of plea bargaining contrary to the purpose of the law in which a specific action should be associated with a specific penalty. The introduction of a version of plea bargaining was highly controversial in France, see below.

Plea bargaining in civil law countries

Plea bargaining is extremely difficult in jurisdictions based on civil law. This is because unlike common law systems, civil law systems have no concept of plea—if the defendant confesses, that confession is entered into evidence, but the prosecution is not absolved of the duty to present a full case. A court may decide that a defendant is innocent even though he presented a full confession. Also unlike common law systems, prosecutors in civil law countries may have limited or no power to drop or reduce charges after a case has been filed, and in some countries their power to drop or reduce charges before a case has been filed is limited, making plea bargaining impossible. Furthermore, many civil law jurists consider the concept of plea bargaining to be abhorrent, seeing it as reducing justice to barter.

The introduction of a limited form of plea bargaining (plaider coupable) was highly controversial in France. In this system, the public prosecutor could propose to suspects of relatively minor crimes a penalty not exceeding one year in prison; the deal, if accepted, had to be accepted by a judge. Opponents, most specifically attorneys and left-wing parties, argued that plea bargaining would gravely infringe on the rights of defense, the long-standing constitutional right of presumption of innocence, the rights of suspects in police custody, and the right to a fair trial. [1] ([2] ([3] ( For instance, Robert Badinter argued that plea bargaining would give too much power to the public prosecutor, and would incite defendants to accept a sentence only not to risk a bigger sentence in a trial, even if they did not really deserve it.

See also

es:acuerdo de súplica


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