The Plea Bargain

Plea bargaining is a process of negotiation that usually involves the defendant, the prosecutor, and the defense counsel and is founded on the mutual interests of all involved. Plea bargaining circumvents the trial process and dramatically reduces the time required for the resolution a criminal case. Bargained pleas are very common. Some surveys have found that 90% of all criminal cases prepared for trial are eventually resolved through a negotiated plea.

In a study of 37 big city prosecutors, the brae of justice statistics found that for every 100 adults arrested on a felony charge, half were eventually convicted of either a felony or a misdemeanor. Of all convictions fully 94% were the result of a plea; only 6% of convictions were the result of a criminal trial. After a guilty plea has been entered, it may be withdrawn with the consent of he court. Even though the Supreme Court has endorsed plea bargaining, the public sometimes views it suspiciously.

Law and order advocates, who generally favor harsh punishments and long jail terms, claim that plea bargaining results in unjustifiably light sentences. As a consequence, prosecutors who regularly engage in the practice rarely advertise it. Plea bargaining can be a powerful prosecutorial tool, but this power carries with it the potential for musses. Because they circumvent the trial process, plea bargains can be abused by prosecutors and defense attorneys who are more interested in the speedy resolution of cases than they are in seeing justice done.

Carried to the extreme, plea bargaining may result in defendants being convicted of crimes they did not commit. Although it is rare, innocent defendants who think a jury will convict them for whatever reason may plead guilty to reduced charges to avoid a trial. Given the complications to the trial process that the plea bargain creates, I still agree with the practice. The amount of time it saves in the courtroom is just too much to do away with. Our justice system would literally fall apart with out it.