Most court analysts contend that over 90% of all cases presented to the courts usually are settled without a trial, with the defendant agreeing to a guilty plea. This is what is referred to as plea bargaining. Plea bargaining according to Jay (324) “is a deal, an agreement between the defendant (through her attorney) and the prosecutor that the defendant will plea guilty in exchange for the prosecutions reducing the seriousness of the charges against the defendant. ” The key purpose of plea barging is to lessen the time and cost of the trial in exchange for leniency to the defendant.
Plea bargaining mostly takes place before the commencement of a trial, this however is not mandatory as long as it takes place before the court reaches a verdict. There are also times when it takes place after a hang jury. This refers to a jury that has been unable to conclusively reach a verdict due to the arising issue of opinion division in the jury. In such cases, the prosecution and the defense may negotiate and agree on a plea rather than having to go through another long trial.
Plea bargaining may take three forms, it can be either be a charge, sentence or fact bargaining. Charge bargaining in the most common in the courtroom and refers to a negotiation between the defendant and the prosecution. The defendant agrees to plead guilty to a lesser crime and in exchange the prosecution dismisses the more serious charge. Sentence bargaining according to Pamela (130) is where “offenders are encouraged to plead guilty to the top count in the indictment in return for a relatively lenient sentence.
” Fact bargaining revolves around the acceptance by the defendant to accept some allegations against them as mere truths and hence easing the burden of proof for prosecution in return the prosecution agreeing not to introduce further evidence against the defendant. The involvement of judge in plea bargaining is not essential, it is only in rare cases that they (judges) are involved in plea bargaining. It usually takes place in the prosecutor’s office.
The court is under no obligation to accept the plea, but it acts at the recommendations of the prosecutor in consideration of a number of requirements. The most referred form of plea bargaining is what has come to be known as the Alford plea. According to George (319), this refers to a plea “in which the defendant adheres to her claim of innocence even while allowing that the government has enough evidence to proof her guilt beyond reasonable doubt. ” The history of Alford plea dates back to a court case in 1970 in the North Carolina v Alford.
Alford was in 1963 was taken to court on a charge of first degree murder which under the North Carolina law was a capital offence that attracted a death penalty. With a state appointed lawyer the defense was unable to establish Alford’s innocence as all witnesses’ testimonies pointed to his guilt. With a death sentence prospect and with overwhelming evidence against him, Alford entered a guilty plea. The prosecution then “agreed to accept a plea of guilty to a charge of second degree murder and on December 10, 1963, Alford pleaded guilty to the reduced charge. ” (James & David 485)
Although Alford had pleaded guilty to the second degree murder charge, he took to the witness stand and maintained his innocence claiming that he made the guilt plea in the understanding of the sentence on first degree murder and in consideration of the advice as given by his attorney. It is important to point that in the Alford’s case, the state had overwhelming circumstantial evidence against him and the court affirmed that that it was in order from him to plead guilty to a lesser charge so as to minimize the prospects of a death sentence or generally a harsher sentence.