Pleas bargaining is said to be the most critical process in the criminal justice system. Plea-bargaining is when the defendant agrees to settle a case with certain guidelines and conditions. The prosecution will ask the defendant for a guilty plea in exchange for a reduced or even suspended sentence. The prosecution may agree to reduce the amount of charges as well. Although estimates vary it is said that 95% of criminal cases incorporate come from of plea-bargaining. Plea-bargaining is just one part of the very lengthy criminal justice process. The criminal process begins with a crime-taking place and then continues on with the formal investigation. After the investigation is concluded and there is cause to issue a warrant, the suspect will be placed under arrest and brought to the police station for processing (booking). Depending on the crime and the defendant they will be either released from custody or held until the next phase of the process.
The next phase is the arraignment in which the defendant enteres their plea of guilty or not guilty to the charge. During the arraignment the defendant also is advised of the nature of the charge(s). The defendant is also advised that they have the right to have an attorney to represent them in the matter.
Following the arraignment the trial is the next phase. Depending on the crime committed the trial will either occur in front of a judge who will make the ruling on the case, or in front of a jury whom will decide the fate of the case. During a typical trial their will be opening statements by both the prosecution and the defence. The next step will be where the prosecutor presents their case. This will be done by calling witnesses and presenting evidence to the court. The defence presents their case next and after this is concluded the trial is concluded.
Plea-bargaining offers many benefits to both the defendant and the criminal justice system as a whole. Throughout the criminal justice system many people are effected by the use of plea bargains in a positive way. In terms of the defendant there are many benefits, which entice them to enter into a plea bargain. For one they defendant who may be facing multiple charges and the potential for years in jail has the potential to get multiple charges dropped as well as getting a significantly reduced sentence. With attorney fees ranging from several hundred to several thousand the costs of a trial can be staggering. Disposing of a case prior to trial will have a large impact, as the costs will be notably less. Plea-bargaining also came save the defendant money as the matter will be resolved more quickly and there will be little impact on the defendant’s job and wages will not be lost.
The advantage for the defence is that less work is required on their part and they typically receive the same amount of money in return. An advantage for the prosecutor is they get a conviction and can alter the sentence any way they see fit. The court system heavily relied on the use of pleas to keep the system moving. In cases involving a plea the judge is able to dispose of a case quickly and move on to the next. In terms of jails and prisons plea-bargaining can also reduce the amount of inmate entering the facilities as jail time may have been suspended as a condition of a plea bargain.
The United States have been implementing pleas bargaining in the country for several hundreds years. Over time issues have resolved in term of defendants rights and specifically that the defendant has the right to have a trial by a jury. Sceptics of plea bargaining also argue that the criminal justice system had became too soft on criminals by allowing for lighter sentencing in exchange for a guilty plea.
Several other disadvantages are associated with plea-bargaining as well. One such disadvantage it that even though a judge and prosecutor may have an agreement and a plea bargain worked out, the courts still have to have the final determination and agree with the terms of the plea bargain. If for whatever reason the court rejects the plea then the case will proceed to a full trial. A big disadvantage for the defendant is that once they sign a plea agreement and agree to plead guilty they will have no opportunity for an appeal at a later date.
There is little doubt that plea-bargaining has a dramatic effect on the criminal system as a whole. The use of plea bargains helps everyone throughout the process from the defendant all the way through the criminal justice system to the jails. Without the use of plea bargains the criminal justice systems would be at a great disadvantage and the system would be crimpled.
Heumann, Milton. 1977. PLEA BARGAINING: THE EXPERIENCES OF PROSECUTORS, JUDGES, AND DEFENSE ATTORNEYS. Boston: G.K. Hall.
McConnell, Michael and Chester L. Mirsky. 1995. “The Rise of Guilty Pleas: New York, 1800-1865,” 22 JOURNAL OF LAW AND SOCIETY 443.
Vogel, Mary Elizabeth. 1999. “The Social Origins of Plea Bargaining: Conflict and the Law in the Process of State Formation, 1830-1860,” 33 LAW AND SOCIETY REVIEW 161.
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