Plea bargaining has been a topic of debate for many years. Advocates feel that plea bargains cut down on caseloads, while opponents feel that criminals get off to easy or are punished to harshly by the system of bargaining. The purpose of this discussion is to discuss these two opposing points of view. I will then choose the one that personally appeals to me and offer support for it. Let’s begin the discussion by defining what a plea bargain is and how it is used.
Defining Plea Bargains
A plea bargain is defined as “an agreement between the defense and the prosecutor in which a defendant pleads guilty or no contest to criminal charges. In exchange, the prosecutor drops some charges, reduces a charge or recommends that the judge enter a specific sentence that is acceptable to the defense.” (Understanding Plea Bargaining” 2002). In most jurisdictions a plea bargain can be arranged at anytime after a defendant has been charged with a crime. In some cases plea bargains are even reached when there is a hung jury because most attorneys would rather arrange a plea bargain than go through an additional trial. (“Plea Bargains: Why and When they’re Made”, 2002)
An article entitled “Plea Bargains: Why and When they’re Made”, explains that plea bargains were created as a result of overcrowded courts. Since there is no way to determine how long a trial will be many courts offer plea bargains. (“Plea Bargains: Why and When they’re Made”, 2002) The article explains that a plea bargain can be arranged in minutes and offer the defense and prosecution some power over the outcome. (“Plea Bargains: Why and When they’re Made”, 2002)
Advocates for plea bargaining include defendants, judges and prosecutors. Many advocates argue that there are several reasons why plea bargains are beneficial. For defendants, plea bargains are beneficial because they allow them to have fewer offenses on their record, leave jail and avoid publicity. (“Defendants’ Incentives for Accepting Plea Bargains, 2002) Plea bargains reduce the number of offenses on a defendant’s record because when the defendant pleads guilty of no contest there charges are automatically reduced. (“Defendants’ Incentives for Accepting Plea Bargains, 2002)
Getting a charge reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor can be beneficial to defendants in the long run. This is due to the fact that it is difficult for felons to get employment and in some places felons are not allowed to vote. (Defendants’ Incentives for Accepting Plea Bargains, 2002) In addition, some states have a three strike law, which means that if an individual is convicted of three felonies they are not eligible for probation or parole. (Defendants’ Incentives for Accepting Plea Bargains, 2002)
Defendants can also avoid jail time with a plea bargain. In many cases defendants that are charged with less serious crimes are let out of jail once a plea bargain is reached. (Defendants’ Incentives for Accepting Plea Bargains, 2002) If a defendant is released through a plea bargain they may not be place on probation or have to do any community service. (Defendants’ Incentives for Accepting Plea Bargains, 2002)
In addition, defendants in high profile cases that reach a plea bargain agreement can avoid publicity. (Defendants’ Incentives for Accepting Plea Bargains, 2002) In these cases the defendant will not have to go through a lengthy trial and therefore avoid unwanted media attention. Avoiding such attention can be beneficial for the defendant’s family and the victim’s family. (Defendants’ Incentives for Accepting Plea Bargains, 2002)
Judges and prosecutors have similar reasons for advocating plea bargains. For judges, plea bargains can greatly reduce their caseloads. In addition, in many cases judges would rather release nonviolent criminals so that crowding in jails can be reduced. (Prosecutors’ and Judges’ Incentives for Accepting Plea Bargains 2002) Prosecutors advocate plea bargains for much the same reason the article entitled, “Prosecutors’ and Judges’ Incentives for Accepting Plea Bargains” explains,
“For a prosecutor, the judge’s concerns about a clogged calendar are the prosecutor’s concerns as well. When the judge is bogged down, the judge puts pressure on the prosecutors to move cases along quicker. To keep judges happy — and keep the machine rolling — prosecutors must keep “the bodies” moving (as criminal defendants are most unfortunately referred to by some courthouse regulars). (Prosecutors’ and Judges’ Incentives for Accepting Plea Bargains 2002)
According to an article published in the William and Mary Law Review advocates of plea bargaining believe that; it curves the effects of unfair legislation, bargains that are reached are reflective of what would happen at trial and it allows prosecutors to consider other factors when creating a plea. Some of the other arguments that the article list includes the fact that participants will bargain anyway, bargaining reserves resources, and bargaining creates deterrents. (Zacharias, 1998)
Although plea bargaining is a common practice in our nation’s courts, many believe that the practice should be eliminated. Most of the opponents of plea bargaining, which include police and the families of victims, believe that most plea bargains give criminals lighter sentences than they would have if their cases were to go to trial. In many instance plea bargains have greatly reduced the amount of time that a defendant would have spent in jail if they would have gone to trial. An article in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology explains that in recent years, “plea bargaining has come under attack from those who believe it has resulted in insufficient punishment for offenders.(258) Critics now include members of the victims’ rights movement who have seen plea bargaining as failing to extract justice from defendants, i.e., the victim’s preferences are not always followed by the prosecutor.” (Misner 1996)
Misner (1996) also explains that some opponents are also concerned that the rights of defendants are being trampled upon by a system that embraces plea bargaining. This is based on the premise that prosecutors have the most power in bargaining between the two sides. (Misner 1996) Opponents assert that this power permits the prosecution to perform as both the judge and jury. They assert that the best way to ensure the rights of the defendant is through trial. (Misner 1996)
Misner (1996) also explains that many opponents desire to replace the plea bargaining system with one that embraces jury waivers. (Misner 1996) Others believe that communities should fund the criminal justice system so that they can eliminate plea bargains. (Misner 1996) Still, some opponents believe that trials should be truncated. The final argument presented by opponents is that a system that embraces plea bargaining puts the community in danger because it allows criminals to go free. (Misner 1996)
On the subject of plea bargaining I believe that the opponents are correct. It seems to me that plea bargaining give unfair advantages to the criminal. If people don’t want to be punished harshly then they shouldn’t commit crimes. The criminal justice system should not create ways for these criminals to escape the punishment that they deserve. It also seems that this system does not care about the victim, instead plea bargains serve to benefit the criminal. In some case victim’s families are not given the proper closure and may have to worry about the criminal being released from prison.
I also believe that the overcrowding in jails and court rooms should not be remedied by allowing criminals to roam the streets. There must be a more concerted effort to prevent crime and to rehabilitate those they are going back into society. Large majorities of the people that are in prison have been there before but because they were not rehabilitated they ended up back in prison and usually the charges are more serious. This leads to an increase in the prison population which could have been avoided in these (non-violent) criminals would have been rehabilitated in the first place.
In short, I believe that plea bargaining creates a system that is too lenient on criminals. Defendants, judges and prosecutors who advocate plea bargains seem to have little regard for the rights of victims and their families. In addition, criminals should not be accommodated because of overcrowding in jails and the court system.
The purpose of this essay was to discuss the two opposing points of view on plea bargaining. We found that advocates believe that plea bargaining eases case loads and relieves overcrowding in prisons. Our investigation found that opponents of plea bargaining believe that the system is too lenient on criminals and can also infringe upon the rights of defendants. I concluded that I agreed with the opponents of plea bargaining in the premise that criminal should not be accommodated because of overcrowding.
Defendants’ Incentives for Accepting Plea Bargains (2002) Laws Guide. Retrieved may 27, 2003 from, http://www.lawsguide.com/mylawyer/guideview.asp?layer=3&article=666
Plea Bargains: Why and when they’re made. (2002) Laws Guide. Retrieved may 27, 2003 from, http://www.lawsguide.com/mylawyer/guideview.asp?layer=3&article=665
Prosecutors’ and Judges’ Incentives for Accepting Plea Bargains. (2002) Laws Guide. Retrieved may 27, 2003 from, http://www.lawsguide.com/mylawyer/guideview.asp?layer=3&article=667
Understanding Plea Bargaining: How Most Criminal Cases are Settled” (2002). Laws Guide. Retrieved may 27, 2003 from, http://www.lawsguide.com/mylawyer/guideview.asp?layer=2&article=147
Misner R. L (1996) Recasting prosecutorial discretion. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, Vol. 86, 1996
Zacharias F. C. (1998) Justice in plea bargaining. William and Mary Law Review, Vol. 39.