Of the many issues relating to the judiciary system in the United States, one of the more controversial matters concerns the issue of plea bargains. Reactions to these agreements frequently depend on whether or not they belong to the plaintiff’s side or the defendant’s side; victims often have strong reactions to the ideas of tampering with maximum sentences allowed. This paper will discuss the purpose of plea bargains, including examples of the different categories that exist, and the pros and cons associated with the use of plea bargains.
In criminal cases, often a compromise between the prosecutor and the defendant is reached, in which the defendant agrees to plead guilty to a less serious charge or to the actual charge without the risk of the maximum sentence. In many cases, the agreement is made for the defendant to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge rather than a felony charge since a misdemeanor will result in a shorter sentence or penalty (The Pros and Cons of Plea Bargaining, 2008.) This practice is frequently criticized, despite the fact that it occurs in more than 90% of criminal convictions (De Leon and Associates, 2011.)The attorneys in the cases involved frequently make decisions about plea bargains based on their belief in the strength of their cases and the likelihood of the defendant being convicted.
There are essentially two types of plea bargains utilized in the court process:
- A “charge bargain” which happens when the prosecutor permits the defendant to plead guilty to a lesser charge, or to only some of the charges that have been filed against him (Larson, 2000.)
With a charge bargain, the advantage to the defendant is obviously that the risk of serving a significant sentence is minimized, allowing his or her criminal record to be less severe as well as allowing him or her to return to society more quickly in order to begin moving towards a more productive, legitimate lifestyle. The largest negative consequence of this form of plea bargain would be to the victims and their loved ones, who might not get any sense of satisfaction from having the traumatic experience they have had minimized by the lesser charges (Larson, 2000.).
- A “sentence bargain,” in which the defendant is advised in advance as to what he can expect to receive as a sentence if he pleads guilty. This type of plea bargain helps the prosecutor secure a conviction if the person charged with a very serious crime is worried about receiving the maximum sentence. In such cases, sentence bargains will only be permitted if they are accepted by the judge who is in charge of the trial (Larson, 2000.) These plea bargains are significantly limited in many localities and court jurisdictions. An advantage of a sentence bargain is that courts as well as the correctional system can bear fewer costs due to the lack of a long, drawn out trial, and the defendant can maintain a sense of some control over his or her outcome over the legal process (Larson, 2000.) In addition, it does guarantee that there will be a conviction with some penalty meted out.
- In general, plea bargains are perceived as providing several benefits to individuals involved in the court system as well as the criminal justice system itself. For the defendant, there is the possibility of having multiple charges reduced or dropped, resulting in a significantly lesser sentence. In addition, the tremendous backlog of court cases as well as the finances involved in attorneys’ fees and other court costs results in tremendous reduction of costs, and frequently allows a defendant to experience less of an impact on job and wages (Tapscott, 2006.)
For the attorneys, the decrease in the amount of work required for each case does not decrease the amount of money that they earn, so that it is a more lucrative situation and they can handle a greater number of cases. Prosecutors benefit from plea-bargaining because they are guaranteed to get a conviction while having a great deal of control over the sentence delivered. The court system backlog is tremendous as it is, but at least with the use of plea bargaining, judges are able to decide cases relatively speedily and take on the next matters at hand. Finally, the number of inmates going to jail as a result of plea bargains is decreased, because some sentences are suspended as a condition of the plea-bargain, a financial benefit to society and the system as a whole (Tapscott, 2006.)