The Court System - Plea Bargaining Agreements - Essay Example

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The country's court system is most often overburdened with so many cases and the majority of these cases sometimes involved relatively minor crimes. The essay "The Court System - Plea Bargaining Agreements" tries to re-examine some of the issues involved with plea bargaining agreements…
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 The Court System - Plea Bargaining Agreements
The country's court system is most often overburdened with so many cases and majority of these cases sometimes involved relatively minor crimes. There is undoubtedly a need to have reforms to unclog the dockets of these minor cases so that the courts can concentrate on the more serious cases like murder, homicide, rape, burglary or other index crimes. There had been many reforms undertaken in the past towards this end so that society will remain secure and safe. This led to one of the more controversial practices in the justice system which is plea bargaining. The accused agrees to a lower sentence in return for admitting the crime or in the words of lawyers, their favorite phrase of “granting without admitting” which connotes absolution. This paper tries to re-examine some of the issues involved with plea bargaining agreements.
The social contract calls for all members of society to submit to its conventions and all the other accepted forms of normal behavior. Membership implies agreement to its rules and so those who deviate from those rules are subject to sanctions and punishments such as those which are prescribed by the laws of that society. This is the only way to maintain order in society so all deviants must somehow be made to account for their unseemly behavior and this is why there is a court system today because modern society is a community of laws and not of men. However, there are instances when the full weight of the law may not be just or wise and other means of a retribution system may be more appropriate and one of these is the plea bargaining agreement.
There are many obvious advantages to a plea bargain, primary of which is unclogging a fully-booked court system. It frees the judge to move on to the next case, spares the criminal the time spent in jail, helps to save on government expense associated with incarceration and overall, is supposed to improve the administration of justice in society. The accused gets off more lightly such as with a probation, a suspended or even a drastically reduced sentence. It likewise spares a criminal the stigma of having been an ex-convict and makes it easier to re-integrate into society. The prosecution gets its guilty plea and plea bargaining agreements are an important part of the prosecution if witnesses are truthful but not very credible (Barkan and Bryjack, 2011, p. 357).
Such agreements are still subject to final approval by the courts and any rejection causes the defendant to be in an obvious disadvantage in the adversarial court system that we have. This precludes the defendant from filing an appeal later on as he had already entered a guilty plea. In retrospect, any plea agreement must be in compliance with the terms and conditions imposed by the court if it is reasonable and justifiable. Despite the advantages cited earlier, there are critics who say the plea bargaining agreement undermines the rule of law by letting off criminals easily. In other words, it strikes at one of the most basic principles in jurisprudence which says that the punishment must fit the crime. The sacred tradition of dishing out the appropriate punishment is sometimes reduced to that of haggling, not unlike that found in the wet market.
This diminishes the legal standards by which all of society must abide by and may have more serious consequences. A common perception is the unresolved issue of recidivism because the guilty party was not being sufficiently punished for a crime committed. On the other hand, it must also consider that one of the aims of the justice system is rehabilitation to avoid stigma.
A convincing argument for plea bargaining is the massive case load of prosecutors; as an example was a certain Mr. Asahel Huntington of the Middlesex County back in 1820, when a load of 101 cases in just a few years threatened a legal calamity of sorts (Fisher, 2004, p. 40). An overwhelming case load prevents a prosecutor from giving focus to each case which can be lost. A plea bargain is also part of the wider aspect of the due process in which suspects are given all the rights to a fair trial and a day in court; the tediousness of the whole legal process tends to the plea bargain as a cop-out to quickly obtain a guilty plea or just plain laziness (Time, 1978, p.1).
Some research studies showed that plea bargaining sometimes allows hardened suspects or criminals to actually get off lightly, like the case of the violent killer back in 1975 who had his charge reduced to manslaughter only and promptly released because he already served all the 18 month-sentence while awaiting trial (ibid.) while other critics say the whole system of bargaining forces some defendants to accept it, feeling coerced especially if the judge is involved in the time of the negotiations or deal making. Some states imposed bans on plea bargains precisely to get a harsher or longer sentence but this plea bargaining has become so pervasive within the system. It was originally a way to mediate cases but has almost become the default mode in 95% of cases. The entire system is anchored on the twin principles of discretion and leniency within the larger context of a state's local political economy (McConville and Mirsky, 2005, p. 8).
Perhaps a way to improve the plea bargaining system is to institute a tracking system by which recidivists and violent offenders are precluded from availing of plea bargains such as that in Canada (Yessine and Bonta, 2006, p. 574) to prevent abuses in the criminal justice system.
Reference List
Barkan, Steven E. & Bryjak, George J. (2011). Fundamentals of criminal justice: a sociological view. Sudbury, MA, USA: Jones & Bartlett Publishing.
Fisher, George (2004). Plea bargaining's triumph: a history of plea bargaining in America. Palo Alto, CA, USA: Stanford University Press.
McConville, Michael & Mirsky, Chester L. (2005). Jury trials and plea bargaining: a true history. Portland, OR, USA: Hart Publishing.
Time Magazine (1978, August 28). Law: is plea bargaining a cop-out? Retrieved from,9171,916340-3,00.html
Yessine, Annie K. & Bonta, James (2006, July). Tracking high-risk, violent offenders: an examination of the national flagging system. Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice, 48 (4), 573-607. Read More
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