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Courts, Criminal Trial, And Sentencing Ð'- Plea-Bargaining

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Courts, Criminal Trial, and Sentencing Ð'- Plea-Bargaining


Foundations of Criminal Justice

June 18, 2006

Courts, Criminal Trial, and Sentencing Ð'- Plea-Bargaining

Plea-bargaining has been a method used in the United States stemming back after the period of Declaring Independence. In this paper, the history behind plea-bargaining, pros and cons, as well as, recommendations will be discussed.



Being a citizen of the United States comes with advantages that no other country can match; however, we are expected to obey laws the U.S. Government has put in place to preserve order and balance. One practice that has been used during trial has no mention in the Bill of Rights, but has been held as constitutional is plea-bargaining.

History and definition

In the United States, recorded history shows the beginning of plea-bargaining after the Declaration of Independence era. In the 1800's, plea-bargaining was entering a guilty plea in exchange for a lesser sentence. Defining the court system by municipal and police courts to hold minor prosecutions as crimes increasingly grew (Rabe, 2002). A plea bargain can be defined as, a negotiation between the defendant and their attorney on one side and the prosecutor on the other.

Types of plea-bargaining

Charge bargain occurs when the prosecutor allows a defendant to plead guilty to a lesser charge, or to only some of the charges that have been filed against them. Sentence bargain occurs in high profile cases, where the prosecutor does not want to reduce the charges against the defendant.


A plea bargain may be negotiated after an arrest. However, plea bargains can be worked out almost any time - from after the arrest, before filing criminal charges, to the time a verdict is reached, even during trial itself (Nolo Law for All, 2004 Ð'â„-). One element of the bargain is the defendant reveal information such as location of stolen goods, names of others taking part in the crime or admission of other crimes. The judge must agree to the result of the plea bargain before accepting the plea. Within the United States, not all jurisdictions use plea-bargaining.

Reasons for plea-bargaining

More than 90% of convictions come from negotiated pleas, which mean that less than 10% of criminal cases result in a trial. Though some view plea bargains as secret, sneaky arrangements that are antithetical to the people's will; the federal government and many states have written rules that clearly set out how plea bargains may be arranged and accepted by the court.

Reasons to accept

These are just a few of the benefits of accepting a plea-bargaining:

1. Get out of jail

Defendants who are held in custody who does not qualify for release on their own recognizance or who do not have the right to bail or cannot afford bail. Depending on the offense, the defendant may get out altogether, on probation, with or without some community service obligations.

2. Resolve matter quickly

This provides resolution to the stress of being charged with a crime because trial requires a much longer wait.

3. Change number of offenses on record

This can be important if the defendant is ever convicted in the future. For people who are never rearrested, getting a charge reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor, or from a felony that constitutes a strike under a three-strike law to one that does not, can prove to be a critical benefit. Some professional licenses must be forfeited on conviction of a felony. Future employers may not want to hire someone previously convicted of a felony. Felony convictions may be used in certain court proceedings (even civil cases) to discredit people who testify as witnesses.

4. Less social stigmatizing offense on record

Prosecutors may reduce charges that are perceived as socially offensive to less offensive charges in exchange for a guilty plea. For example, a prosecutor may reduce a molestation or rape case to an assault. This can have a major impact on the defendant's relationship with friends and family.

5. Avoid hassles

Some people plead guilty, especially to routine, minor first offenses without hiring a lawyer. If they wait and go to trial, they would have to find a good lawyer and spend both time and money preparing for trial.

6. Avoid publicity

Famous people, ordinary people who depend on their reputation in the community to earn a living and people who do not want to bring further embarrassment to their families all may choose to plead guilty or no contest. This is a way to keep their names out of the public eye.

7. Not to involve others

Some defendants plead guilty to take the blame (sometimes called the rap) for someone else, or to end the case quickly so others who may be jointly responsible are not investigated (Nolo Law for All Ð'І).

Benefits for prosecutor

1. Avoid costly trial

This includes the expenses incurred because of the investigation, the jury, officers assign to the court not to mention the suffering and fear endured by the victim while waiting for the decision. "The cost depends on the nature and complexity of the case, and to some extent on the area in which it is being brought. A straightforward, one day, unfair dismissal hearing would probably cost between $3,000 and $5,000 dollars" (TLT, 2006).

2. Avoid potential for appeal

This appeal would result in an additional tab to taxpayers and possible delays because of scheduling.

3. Save victim from testifying at trial

This prevents the turmoil of having to relive the crime and having to describe details that are necessary to have the jury understand the gravity of the crime.

4. Avoid uncertainties at trial

At times witnesses may not be found, case in point may not be



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