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Discuss the use of plea bargaining in the criminal justice system.

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heavendanialee | Student, College Freshman | eNotes Newbie

Posted September 4, 2010 at 1:15 PM via web

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Discuss the use of plea bargaining in the criminal justice system.

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted September 4, 2010 at 1:25 PM (Answer #2)

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In the United States, plea bargaining is a mixed bag, in my opinion, in terms of being good or bad.

I think that the main benefit of plea bargaining is the fact that it helps make the court system more efficient.  If all cases went to trial, our justice system would be badly clogged with cases that could easily lead to guilty pleas.

What's bad about the system is that it might work to reduce the justness of outcomes in our system.  You can argue that plea bargaining works against defendants.  Prosecutors can charge people with pretty serious crimes and then "allow" them to bargain down to lesser crimes rather than going to trial.  Prosecutors are generally able to push defendants into guilty pleas by making them fear the long terms that would come with being found guilty of the greater charges.

However, I think that this is more of a problem with the public defender system because defendants with good attorneys would probably be able to limit prosecutors' ability to use the plea bargain system in this way.

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martinjmurphy | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

Posted September 4, 2010 at 2:05 PM (Answer #3)

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Plea bargaining plays an important role in the criminal justice system. Plea bargaining is usually a deal offered by a prosecutor to convince a defendant to plead guilty of a crime.  There are two types of plea bargains—a charge bargain and a sentence bargain.  In a charge bargain the defendant pleads guilty to a lesser charge or to just some of the charges against him.  In a sentence bargain, the defendant is told in advance what the sentence will be if he pleads guilty.

Plea bargaining is important for defendants for several reasons. Of course the most important reasons for a defendant to accept a plea bargain are the fact that he may receive a lighter sentence to a lesser charge.  A plea bargain resolves the matter much more quickly for the defendant (and the prosecutor, too).  Also, if the defendant is represented by private counsel, he could save a lot of money by accepting a plea bargain.  Finally, accepting a plea bargain may mean having a less serious crime on the defendant’s record.

Plea bargaining is important for prosecutors for several reasons. Plea bargaining is important because if all defendants went to trial, the courts would be overwhelmed and would not be able to function. In addition there is a cost savings to taxpayers when a plea bargain is reached and a trial avoided.  Also, plea bargains may reduce overcrowding in prisons and make space available for truly heinous criminals.  Finally, a plea bargain assures a guilty verdict.  No matter the evidence, there is no such thing as a “slam dunk” when talking about a jury trial. 

Plea bargaining is important to the criminal justice system.  About 90 of convictions come from negotiated pleas.

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krishna-agrawala | College Teacher | Valedictorian

Posted September 4, 2010 at 7:13 PM (Answer #4)

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Plea bargaining is a judicial practice in which a person charged with a criminal case pleads guilty instead of going on a trial. against an promise by prosecuting authority for pressing lighter charges. Such lighter charges may involve dropping one or more charges, substituting a less serious charge, or recommendation for lighter sentence than ordinarily would be given.

Plea bargaining cuts down the cost and time of trial for the defendant as well as the other parties involved. The lighter punishment resulting from the bargaining process is justified on the grounds that a lawbreaker who admits the guilt has shown regret for criminal actions committed, hence deserves lighter sentence.

However, critics of plea bargaining argue that it allows criminals to get away with lighter punishment than they deserve. This practice is also opposed on the grounds that it jeopardizes the right of people to be considered innocent till proved guilty. It is felt that the fear of lengthy as well as unfair trial may force even innocent people to accept charges of crime they did not commit.

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brettd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted September 4, 2010 at 10:51 PM (Answer #5)

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There are a couple of other uses/factors regarding plea bargaining that have not yet been mentioned here.  In many cases, it would be difficult to obtain a conviction, or at least risky.  If the accused were acquitted, they would serve no jail time at all, and a plea bargain can guarantee at least some punishment, as well as prevent the need for a victim to have to testify in a painful court trial.  For victims of assaults, this is very important.

Secondly, plea bargains are sometimes given to co-defendants in a criminal case in exchange for their testimony against their partners in crime.  I disagree with this practice because it gives criminals an incentive to lie by reducing their sentence, and such testimony should be considered unreliable in my opinion.

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akannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted September 5, 2010 at 4:44 AM (Answer #6)

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I think that plea bargaining is one of those elements that falls under the nebulous umbrella called "prosecutorial discretion."  Essentially, it is a force that compels citizens to place trust in the prosecutor.  The plea bargains made are done on tactical decisions of winnability of cases, amount of evidence collected, and what might serve the interests of justice.  The plea bargain process is content with getting something that is better than nothing.  Prosecutors have to be careful with how the plea bargain process is used and how it is perceived by the public, as reelection claims become difficult if a pattern of abuse or incompetence regarding the use of plea bargaining is present.  I suppose that my toughest issue with the plea bargain system is how one can, essentially, negotiate justice.  That is what the plea bargain is reduced to, as the prosecutor "cuts a deal," and, from a theoretical point of view, the question that lingers is whether justice, an intangible ideal, is capable of being negotiated.

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted September 29, 2010 at 7:49 PM (Answer #7)

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Excellent posts so far, and I actually have very little to add to this discussion.  You've heard about the advantages and disadvantages of plea bargaining, but I'm struck with the rather demoralizing effects of plea bargaining on the jury.  If a case pleads out before going to court, this is not an issue; however, many plea bargains aren't made until the eleventh hour--after all the cards have been played and the members of the jury have spent their time being attentive and active listeners at the trial.  Just when they get to go do their civic duty and deliberate, the deal is struck and jurors are released.  I only think of this because, within the past year, I've probably had seven or eight friends and former students who expressed their frustration at not being able to see a case through to the end as a jury member.  That seems like a high number to me, and the experience has certainly made jury duty more unappealing to them. I can feel their frustration.  I'm glad we have the option to plea bargain, but there are costs.

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