Should the nature of the crime affect a defendants opportunity to plea bargain?A plea bargain is another controversial practice in the American Judicial system. I just wanted to get everybody...

Should the nature of the crime affect a defendants opportunity to plea bargain?

A plea bargain is another controversial practice in the American Judicial system. I just wanted to get everybody else's opinion on the question. I believe that it should affect the defendants opportunity, but what if the defendant is being wrongly accused of the crime, and was accused of the crime and then later found out after he/she had got ruled death penalty that they were not guilty?

4 Answers | Add Yours

brettd's profile pic

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

Posted on

Well, you raise a lot of "what-ifs" there at the end, so let's deal with your primary question first.  Yes, I feel the nature of the crime should affect the ability of a defendant to plea bargain.  It shouldn't absolutely determine it without exception, but it should be a major factor in the prosecutor's decision to allow a plea bargain or not.

Plea bargaining has two main purposes.  One, it saves the state the time and expense of a trial, especially if it's a pretty strong case where a conviction is likely.  Putting a person in for 20 years instead of life still offers society a great deal of protection and may save hundreds of thousands in legal costs - enough to pay for the incarceration, in other words.  Two, it guarantees punishment, as opposed to a guilty person being set free or acquitted, and saves the victims from having to testify and to wait for justice through the appeals process.

The what-ifs you pose about whether a person may be innocent seem irrelevant to the plea bargain issue.  We do not have plea bargains as a safety valve against wrongful conviction.

akannan's profile pic

Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

I think that there is a political dimension to the question.  The plea bargain system is driven by the evidential burden of the prosecutor.  Much of it is contingent on what can be proven.  The nature of the criminal offense does play into this, but the primary focus should be on what the prosecutor can prove.  If the prosecutor fails to meet a specific evidential burden, the plea bargain system allows the prosecution to obtain some measure of justice on a lesser charge.  In the end, if the evidence is properly obtained and can prove the case, this should be what criminal charge is sought.  The political dimension here is that the plea bargain system could be seen as the prosecutor "selling out."  This is more perception based, and one that has to be understood as part of the nature of the beast.  Yet, I believe that the plea bargain system being predicated on what can be proven is a valid system that stresses and places primacy on the proper technique and acquisition of collecting evidence.

dano7744's profile pic

dano7744 | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

Posted on

In reality the nature of the crime does indeed sometimes determine whether or not a criminal defendant can plea bargain. A plea bargain is an agreement between the prosecutor(the State) and the defendant. There are no hard and fast rules regarding plea bargaining. One side, either the defendant or the district attorney, says look... let's make a deal...the DA may say something like if you(defendant) will plead guilty to XY...then the State(prosecutor) will do something(like only charge you with XX). Or the defendant, and his counsel, will say... look if I plead guilty to BC...then you will agree not to charge me with GP. Either party can try to initiate a plea bargain(deal), neither party has to accept it. Both parties must agree to the terms of the deal(plea bargain). If they can't agree, then no plea bargain is done and the case will proceed to trial. This is never one sided, in other words, if the defendant says... I want a plea bargain...the State(DA) can say no...we are going to trial and prosecute you. If the State(DA) says...let's plea bargain...the defendant can say no...I want to go to trial because I didn't do the crime or I think I can win the case. If the State thinks they can win, they will not offer a PB. If the defendant thinks he can win he will not want to PB. 

Now, if the defendant was in fact wrongly accused, as you put it, and found guilty, but then later new evidence surfaced to exonerate him, then his lawyer must petition the court to hear this new evidence. If that request is granted and if it does exonerate him, then we can get him out of jail.

You mentioned that the sentence was the death penalty. All capital cases automatically come up for appellate review.

pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

So you're saying that defnedants who are accused of "big" crimes should not be permitted to plea bargain, right?

To me, the reason this does not make sense is that plea bargains are not some gift that the prosecutors give because they are trying to be nice.  Prosectuors allow plea bargains when they think that they can't get a conviction on a greater charge or they think that it is not worth the effort to try to win on the greater charge.  These are calculations they are making based on what's good for the prosecution, not for the defense.

So what I'm saying is that the prosecutors are already in charge of plea bargains so they are probably strict enough already.

We’ve answered 317,489 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question