What are the pros and cons of a plea bargain arrangement?

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brettd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The main advantage of the plea bargain system is that, in cases where the suspect is very likely guilty, and very likely to be convicted, we avoid the expense and time necessary to achieve a very similar result to the suspect simply pleading guilty and getting a reduced charge or sentence.  A murder trial, for example, can often cost in excess of $100,000 and take a few weeks of the court's time if it is not a high profile case, in which both of those numbers would rise.  So the plea bargain saves money and still gets a criminal off the streets.  It has the added benefit of getting jail time for the suspect without having to put a victim on the stand.  In sexual assault cases, or in the abuse of children, sometimes testifying is just as bad as the assault itself, and this gets the victims some measure of guaranteed justice without the added trauma or delay of a trial.  Lastly, plea bargaining avoids the lengthy appeals process, as their right to an appeal is waived, which saves taxpayers more money.

On the down side, plea bargaining usually results in less jail time than perhaps a criminal deserves.  Going from 1st to 2nd degree murder, for example, can be the difference between 12 years in prison and life without parole.  Some would say that is not justice.  Often times, a person with poor legal representation or who might believe, or have been led to believe, that they are going to be convicted no matter what, even if they are innocent, will plead guilty just to try and get as little time as possible, when in fact they should get no jail time at all.  It happens perhaps more than we would like to admit, and often to the poorest, least educated Americans.

Lastly, plea bargaining is often used in exchange for testimony against "bigger fish" that we would like to see go to jail for longer periods of time, so the plea bargained criminal does not get a sentence equal to their crime, and they are given an incentive to testify a certain way in court, whether or not that testimony is accurate.