Pros and Cons of Plea Bargaining a Case Instead of Taking It to Court


A plea bargain is a settlement reached between the prosecutor and the defendant in a criminal case after making a mutual agreement. The prosecutor gives the accused a chance to accept that they are indeed guilty of the charges made against them so as not to proceed to court. In return, the accused is supposed to receive a lesser charge as opposed to the maximum charge he would receive if the case is taken to court for the hearing. If the defendant pleads guilty to the charges, the case ends, and in return, the prosecutor agrees to dismiss certain charges or recommend to the court to give a minimum sentence in line with the law. Both the prosecutor and the defendant may opt for a plea bargain instead of going to court for various reasons. However, both sides have to assess how strong their case is and the likely outcome in case it goes to trial before coming into an agreement (McCoy, 2005).

For instance, the prosecution may take into account the publicity surrounding the case and whether there is public pressure to prosecute that particular defendant according to the law while the defendant side will consider the individual defendant’s desire to go to trial and the seriousness of the potential sentence and the likelihood of winning the case. Plea bargaining is accepted and widely used in the court system because plea bargaining helps reduce their workloads and the backlog of cases brought about by lengthy trials therefore the whole process seems to benefit the prosecution and state. Even though supporters of plea bargaining have argued that plea bargaining may benefit all parties involved instead of proceeding to court trial I believe that the benefits of having a court trial outweigh the benefits of plea bargaining.

Main Duscissuion

Generally, a judge will authorize a plea bargain if the accused voluntarily accepts to do so and understands that he or she has a constitutional right to a fair trial in court. In addition, the accused must be aware of the charges he or she is facing before pleading guilty and is made aware of the maximum sentence he or she will receive after pleading guilty to the charges (Elizabeth, 1999). First and foremost pleading guilty prevents justice from prevailing on the part of the defendant and the prosecution. The process of plea bargaining is improper and degrading to the criminal justice system. The process is usually unfair and discreet that controls the system and compromises the principles under which it is founded. For instance, once the defendant pleads guilty this then becomes a final decision and therefore may not have the chance to appeal later if the defendant feels that they have denied justice. Therefore, this is a violation of the defendant’s rights in which he or she is entitled to appeal in case he or she is not satisfied with the sentence passed. In addition, even though it is argued that plea-bargaining usually results in a lesser charge for the defendant it is not always the case. It should important to keep in mind that the prosecution usually represents the states and therefore may not consider justice for the victims.

The prosecution may negotiate for plea-bargaining because they want to spare the state the resources it may incur in case the case proceeds to trial without taking into consideration. The criminal victim in most cases has no control over the prosecutor and therefore the prosecution usually makes decisions that benefit the state and not the victim as it should be. Therefore for the fact that with plea bargaining justice is likely to be undermined then the case should proceed for trial where both the victims and defendants will get a fair and just hearing. In addition, the fact that in most cases the whole process is not well monitored and regulated the practice can be misused and abused by the parties involved to benefit themselves (Etienne & Robbennolt, 2007).

Prosecutors are bound to give less harsh charges to the criminals who have pleaded guilty than those required by law. In some cases, plea-bargaining can be more lenient to the defendant hence subverting justice for the crime victim. This is because normally the criminal law sets the standards that society has chosen for punishing an offender, and the trial is intended to enforce these standards in each case and to assure that offenders receive the most favorable sentence. Since prosecutors have to offer defendants something in return for the guilty plea, plea-bargaining results in leniency that may deter justice from prevailing. It may result in charges being made without following the legal frameworks. In addition, when defendants are given lighter charges they may encourage people to commit crimes because they know that in case they are asked to plead guilty the charges they are likely to receive will favor them. On the other hand, criminals who are used to committing crimes may end up being given a lesser punishment and after serving their sentence they end up back to the public to commit a similar or a more serious crime. This therefore will be a major setback, particularly to the wider society because the rate of crimes will be at the increase (Michael, 2010).

There is also the issue with plea bargaining and wrongful convictions. People who have been wrongly accused may opt to plead guilty even if in a real sense they are innocent to receive a lenient sentence because some of them may not have afforded the best attorneys to defend them. In addition, the prosecution to plead guilty even if they believe it is not in their best interest may manipulate the defendants who have been wrongly accused. Even if there is a possibility of wrongful being tried in court it is better because after all justice will prevail in the long rand. In addition, the wider community is better off with few wrongful trial convictions than with many wrongful plea-bargaining convictions, even if the latter result in many lenient sentences and are thus preferred by the innocent defendants. As long as wrongful convictions carry no special moral cost except the one they have to incur during the trial process a plea-bargain, like any other contract, is a transaction that benefits both prosecutors and wrongly charged defendants (Ayal & Riza, 2009).

The concept of plea bargaining is sometimes unfair to criminal defendants. This is because the prosecution usually has more powers in selecting the charges the accused is to face. In addition, when a defendant is arrested, prosecutors have the power to present any charge if they have adequate evidence to support their claims that the accused indeed committed a particular crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Thus, for leverage, a prosecutor may tack on similar, more serious charges without believing that the charges can be proved beyond a reasonable doubt at trial. Since prosecutors are evaluated in large part on their conviction rates, they are forced to try to win at all costs. According to some critics, prosecutors use overcharging to coerce guilty pleas from defendants and deprive them of the procedural safeguards and the full investigation of the trial process. In addition, the defendants who insist on exercising their constitutional right to a fair court hearing risk receiving a considerably harsher sentence as opposed to those who agree to plea bargaining.

Additionally, it is argued that plea bargaining can hurt police investigations. This is because instead of all the parties concentrating on carrying out investigations and presenting the appropriate evidence the efforts are directed at making settlements. Therefore, justice is compromised because the parties do not see the importance of a meaningful investigation with detailed and adequate evidence. Therefore, the legal consequences of a particular case are overlooked and are not given the required attention as required by the law.

Plea bargaining may also have an influence deterrent effect of punishment because it gives criminal defendants the authority to bargain for lenient sentences. Therefore, more experienced and veteran criminals are more likely to receive favorable plea bargains because they are familiar with the criminal justice system. In subtle plea-bargaining undermines the fact that a criminal should receive a punishment suited to the crime in line with the laws in place.


Plea bargaining is one of the most common and controversial practices in the justice system. Therefore it should be handled with a lot of caution by all concerned parties including the prosecution, defendant, and more so the justice system. The various research that has been carried out on plea bargaining suggests that injecting apologies into plea-bargaining may not automatically lead to beneficial results to both the defendant prosecution and even the wider society. As much as plea-bargaining may sometimes be beneficial to all the concerned parties, the law mustn’t be compromised while trying to undertake the process. In addition, if plea bargaining is to be undertaken the parties concerned should strive to ensure that the constitutional; rights of the victims or defendants are not violated in any way at the expense of the other party.

Contrary to the claims that apologies would lead to more favorable plea-bargained outcomes for defendants this is not necessarily the truth because the nature of plea negotiation may render the unlikely. In conclusion, the process of plea bargaining may at times result in violation of the constitutional rights of the victims and defendants, undermining of justice, have a negative influence on the deterrent effect of punishment, negative impact on police investigations, therefore, increase in the criminal cases and also result in wrongful convictions. It is particularly important that the process of plea bargaining, sentencing, and punishment arising from the guilty plea process be made by basic principles of fair and just sentencing. Therefore unless the issues concerning the undertaking of plea bargaining are adequately addressed then plea bargaining should be viewed to have a lot of drawbacks as opposed to benefits.


Ayal, O.G. & Riza, L. (2009). Plea-bargaining and prosecution. Criminal Law and Economics. (Nuno Garoupa, Ed.). New York: Edward Elgar Publishing.

This paper was written by Ayal and Riza in 2009. It is titled Plea-bargaining and prosecution. The paper generally reviews the law and economics of prosecutorial discretion and of plea-bargaining. The paper begins with a brief introduction giving the legal background plea-bargaining before outlining the historical background of plea-bargaining. In addition, the paper analyzes charging and plea-bargaining and resource constraints as a result of plea-bargaining. The paper explores the issue of innocence with plea-bargaining before concluding with Plea-bargaining and prosecutorial discretion in civil law countries.

Elizabeth, V.M. (1999). The Social Origins of Plea Bargaining: Conflict and the Law in the Process of State Formation, 1830-1860. Law and Society Review, 33, 161.

This paper was written by Elizabeth Mary in 1999. It is titled ‘The Social Origins of Plea Bargaining: Conflict and the Law in the Process of State Formation.’ The paper explores the social origin of the process of plea bargaining and examines the various pros and cons of plea-bargaining in the society.

Etienne. M.E & Robbennolt. J, K. (2007). Apologies and plea-bargaining. Marquette Law Review, 4, 28.

This journal was written by Etienne and Robbennolt in 2007.The journal is titled Apologies and plea-bargaining. The journal review s the whole process of plea-bargaining in general before narrowing down to the legal contexts and examines issues at both the criminal sentencing and civil settlement. The journal also explores the various pros and cons surrounding plea-bargaining. In addition, it looks at the various dynamics of plea-bargaining and the various theories that have been put forward in relation to plea-bargaining. The journal then concludes that to that, contrary to the assertion that apologies would lead to more favorable plea bargained outcomes for defendants, the nature of plea negotiation renders this result unlikely.

McCoy, C. (2005). Plea Bargaining as Coercion: The Trial Penalty and Plea Bargaining Reform. Law and Society Review, 5, 8.

The paper was written by McCoy Candice in 2005. It is titled The Trial Penalty and Plea Bargaining Reform. The paper reviews the history of plea-bargaining in the United States, critique its current manifestations, and show how its worst pathologies could be removed from the system without harming the smooth administration of criminal justice. The paper therefore begins with the definition of plea-bargaining before analyzing the Jurisprudential Arguments For and Against Plea Bargaining, Recounted with Reference to U.S. Court History. The paper then concludes with suggestions and recommendations on policies pertaining plea-bargaining. It argues that particularly an awareness that plea bargaining is sentencing, and that punishments emerging from the guilty plea process must comport with fundamental principles of fair and just sentencing, is essential.

Michael S. (2010). Understanding plea-bargaining in Colorado. Web.

The article was written by Michael Stenberg and it explores the process of plea-bargaining in Colorado in the United States. It basically explores the various pros and cons of the plea bargaining process.

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