The Benefits of Plea Bargaining
When laws were first drafted, legislators had in mind the worst offenders. As a result, sentencing provisions in many states tend to be severe. In reality, court room officials rarely encounter such stereotypical bad guys. Most defendants are less threatening and less dangerous than the law had originally envisioned. Profoundly, there are more crimes and there are more petty offenses which now are criminalized (offenses such as failing to pay a bus fare, being an unlicensed vendor, petty burglary, shoplifting, and so forth): crimes hardly worth a stiff sentencing. Additionally, going to trial is more costly and time-consuming. This reality and current legislations are at constant odds in determining punishment for the guilty.
Plea bargaining provides that flexibility necessary to make adjustments and produce substantive justice (Neubauer, 2002, p. 325). Yet despite or due to their prevalence, plea bargains remain one of the most controversial practices in the criminal justice system. The fear that innocent defendants would plead guilty animates the often heated debate over plea bargains.
A plea bargain is an agreement between the prosecutor and the accused in which the accused pleads guilty in exchange for a lesser sentence or a reduced charge. “About 95 percent of all felony convictions in the United States are the result of plea bargains” (Schulhofer, 2004). Typically, plea agreements take one of three forms: charge bargaining, count bargaining, and/or sentence bargaining.
There are a variety of different forms of plea bargaining and there are versions in which the judge has a relatively passive role, and in which most of the pressures are brought by the prosecutor. This is typically called "charge bargaining." (In charge bargaining, the prosecutor threatens to bring a large number of charges or to intensify the charges and recommend the high end of the sentencing range.)
In other forms of plea bargaining,...