Criminal liability implies punishment. Any person found to have committed a crime shall be punished by the state either by deprivation of life, liberty or property. In view of the harsh penalties imposed by law for the commission of crime, criminal laws require that before a person is found guilty certain elements of the crime committed must be proven first in a court of law. Moreover, even if the accused admits before a competent court to have committed the crime, the US Constitution and various state laws recognize certain defenses which may exempt him from criminal liability.
While there are sufficient defenses available to an accused the courtroom reality is that these defenses are not being properly utilized by the accused. The US Constitution provides a number of rights in favor of the accused – right to be presumed innocent until guilt is proven beyond reasonable doubt; right to be tried by a jury; and the right to an impartial judge. Yet these defenses are seldom availed of by the accused. This is because majority of the cases filed in court today do not even reach the trial stage.
The accused in a great majority of these cases filed in court enters into a plea bargaining agreement with the prosecutor where he admits to a lesser crime in exchange for a lesser penalty. Despite his innocence or despite the presence of other circumstances that may justify the criminal act or exempt him from criminal liability, the accused chooses the easy way out by admitting to the crime for lesser penalty.
Accusation is not synonymous with guilty. The accused has since time immemorial been considered as not an evil person but as a victim of circumstances who is entitled to defend himself in a court of law. Thus, defenses are available not only under the Constitution but under existing laws.
No matter how hateful and evil the crime is the accused is still entitled to his day in court (“The Right to a Day in Court”, 2008, p.1). It may appear that the accused is incorrigible and hopeless, yet just like any person he is presumed innocent unless his guilt is proven in court of law. The nature of the US criminal justice system is such that it does not look into the character or personality of the accused but the evidence presented in court. It does not look into the reputation of the accused but the credibility of the witnesses and the reliability of the evidence submitted in court.
This treatment given to an accused stems from the consequence of being adjudged guilty by a court of law. A person rendered guilty may not only be deprived of his liberty but even his life. Even if he is not sentenced to death, the accused may have to spend the remainder of his life in prison. If he gets the opportunity to be released from prison earlier than scheduled, the fact of his previous conviction is forever imbedded in his personal record restricting his employability. In view of the harsh penalty imposed for violation of criminal laws, the accused is given by the US constitution and the laws certain rights to enable him to defend himself better in a court of law. The principle is that it is better to let loose in the streets ten criminals rather than convict one innocent person.
Problem, however, is that majority of the accused does not choose to avail of these rights. Instead, they resort to plea bargaining as their easy-way-out of their predicament. Statistics from the Department of Justice shows that only ten percent (10%) of the accused in criminal cases gets to avail of his rights under the law (“Is Plea Bargaining a Cop-Out” 1978, p.1). This term paper seeks to prove that plea bargaining is not the best deal for an accused. If he is innocent of the crime being charged against him, there are a number of defenses available that he can use.
Provided the accused complies with all the requirements of the law, an accused may avail of these defenses – the defense of self-defense, the defense of insanity, the defense of entrapment, the right against unreasonable search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment and the right against self incrimination under the Fifth Amendment. These defenses and their requirements will be discussed in this term paper to prove that plea bargaining is not the only weapon of the accused in a court of law.