IS PLEA BARGAINING THE BRIGHT SIDE OF THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM?
The Author of this blog is Ms. Nakiya Fidai, a student of 3rd year, B.L.S. LLB at Pravin Gandhi College of Law, Mumbai University, Maharashtra
“Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbours to compromise whenever they can. Point out to them how the nominal winner is often the loser — in fees, and expenses, and waste of time. As a peace-maker, the lawyer has an opportunity of being a good man. There will still be business enough.”
saying of “Justice delayed is justice denied” holds extreme significance when
we discuss the concept of Plea bargaining. There is a continuous elevation of
cases pending in the Indian courts, but this has been normalized by us.
Plea-bargaining is a recently developed concept in India. It was introduced by the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act,
2005 based on the recommendation
of the Law Commission of India. The Amendment added a new Chapter XXI A
in the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973.
Plea Bargaining is a pre-trial negotiation
between the Prosecution and the Defendant where the Defendant agrees to accept
a lesser charge in exchange for concessions in his punishment. It is a bargain
where the Accused pleads guilty to a lesser offence and the Prosecutors in
return drop more serious charges. The aim of Plea Bargaining is to reach a
settlement and avoid a very lengthy trial. The concept of Plea Bargaining originally developed in the
USA at the beginning of the 20th century. Today, Plea Bargaining
dominates most criminal cases in the USA and it can easily be said that the
American Criminal Justice System will collapse if Plea Bargaining is removed
from it. 
XXIA of the Criminal Procedure Code which extends from Section 265A to 265L
deals with the concept of Plea Bargaining. The cases where Plea Bargaining
cannot be claimed are:
GENERALLY, THERE ARE THREE TYPES OF PLEA BARGAINING:-
BARGAINING:- Here, the main motive of the Defendant is to get a lesser
sentence. So, he agrees to plead guilty to the stated charges and in
return, he bargains for a lighter or alternative sentence. E.g. Pleading guilty to a
charge in exchange for a sentence of “time served,” which generally means
that the Defendant will be released immediately.
- CHARGE BARGAINING:- Here, the Defendant agrees to plead guilty to a less serious
charge in exchange for dismissal of greater charges. E.g. Pleading for aggravated assault and
dropping the charges of Murder.
- FACT BARGAINING:-This is not very common in courts because it is said to be against
the Criminal Justice System. It occurs when the Defendant agrees to
stipulate certain facts of the case in order to prevent the introduction
of other facts into evidence.
bargain is different from ‘guilty plea’ as the facts accepted by the Accused
during a plea bargain cannot be used against him anywhere in a legal
proceeding. Plea Bargaining law also mandates the Court to
pay compensation to victims of crime once the process is complete and then
hears the parties on the possibility of probation.
The key benefit
of Plea Bargaining for both the Prosecution and the Defence is that there is no
risk of complete loss at trial. In cases where evidence for or against a
Defendant is questionable, bargains may introduce a feasible way for the
counsels to cut down on their potential losses by settling on a mutually agreed
outcome. As trials are time-consuming, labour-intensive, costly and carry no
guarantee of success, through Plea Bargaining, Prosecutors can ensure some
penalty for offenders who might otherwise be acquitted on technicalities. Plea
bargaining has canvassed a “victim-oriented reform” to the criminal justice
administration. It provides greater consideration towards victims and their
rights. Earlier, the victim had to satisfy himself with what the Court decision
but now the victim has moved from a ‘forgotten actor’ to becoming a key player
in the Criminal Justice Process. Plea bargaining also spares the victim from
the anxiety of having to give evidence in the Court and the unpleasantness of
hearing all the details of the crime at length in public. In other cases, a Defendant may be culpable
in one criminal matter, but have information that would help in prosecuting a
more significant matter. In such a case, the Prosecutors may agree to reduce
the charges or sentencing in the first matter, in exchange for the Defendant’s
cooperation in prosecuting the larger matter.
is also a way for Courts to preserve scarce resources for cases that need them
most. Although Plea Bargains have to be approved by judges before whom they are
presented, judges rarely disapprove unless they feel that the Defendant is
innocent or has been forced into pleading guilty or the bargain accords a
punishment that the judge believes is excessively harsh or very lenient. No appeal can go against a
judgment except for Special Leave to Appeal under Article 136 and Writ
Petitions under Article 226 & 227 of the Constitution of India. Defendants,
of course, also benefit from Plea Bargains, as they can limit the severity of
the penalties they face and add certainty to an otherwise unpredictable
process. Some Defendants also plead guilty to avoid the stigma of a trial as
societal status is of great significance in India. For Judges, the key
incentive for accepting a Plea Bargain is to alleviate the need to schedule and
hold a trial on an already overcrowded docket and an overcrowded prison.
speaking, Plea Bargains help create more judicial economy and conservation of limited resources. As such, Plea Bargain is seen as
encouraging judicial economy in most states.
As is everything, Plea bargaining is also
subject to criticism. Many individuals complain that
innocent Defendants sometimes agree to Plea Bargains because they are baffled
by the justice system
and do not know what to do. It also sometimes involves coercion by the
investigating agencies and corruption in the process. Similar is true for
persons who are falsely implicated in offences and are forced to admit crimes
and thereafter further forced for Plea Bargains. On the other hand, Plea Bargaining allows offenders
to escape appropriate punishment for their crimes. It is felt that the
existence of Plea Bargaining punishes those who exercise their Constitutional right to trial. There
is also pressure on lower-income Defendants who believe they're innocent to
accept a Plea deal because they lack the funds for a robust defence.
vs State of Gujarat, the
Supreme Court said that Plea Bargaining is against public policy. Furthermore,
Hon’ble Court described it as a highly reprehensible practice. The Court also
held the practice of Plea Bargaining as unconstitutional which tends to
encourage the corruption, collusion and pollutes the pillar of justice and in Thippaswamy
vs State of Karnataka, the Court said that inducing or leading an
accused to plead guilty under an assurance would be violative of Article 21 of
To sum it up, while Plea Bargaining is beneficial to both the accused and victim of a crime, enough safeguards are required to stop possible abuse of this process. Plea Bargain is a realistic vision to overcome crowded criminal courts and prisons and a probable way to improve litigation efficiency and rationalize judicial resources, infrastructure and expenses. Lack of infrastructure, facilities and inadequate appointments of judges is a great worry for so many past decades. Plea Bargaining may act as a silver lining in the criminal justice delivery system of India, if rightly propagated and applied, therefore benefitting millions of undertrials withering in jails for defined crimes and saving high expenses and the spaceborne by State in maintaining them.
 Source Subha Ghosh, Plea Bargaining - An Analysis, http://www.legalserviceindia.com/articles/plea_bar.htm.
 Law Times Journal, https://lawtimesjournal.in/plea-bargaining/.
 Maharashtra Government Legal
 State of Gujarat vs Natwar Harchandji Thakor (2005) 1 GLR 709.
 Jon’s F. Meyer, Plea Bargaining, https://www.britannica.com/topic/plea-bargaining/Benefits-of-plea-bargaining.
 Kasambhai vs State of Gujarat (1980 AIR 854).
 Thippaswamy vs State of Karnataka (1983) 1 SCC 194.