This Article is written by Archana Upadhyay pursuing B.A. LL.B. from Galgotias University. The article discusses the origin of Plea Bargaining as a construct, its facets, and its benefits for the prosecution and the Accused.
Introduction to Plea Bargaining
Justice should be delivered at the doorstep, not only to the Prosecution but also to the Accused, which has been the most essential concern of the Indian legal system. With this view, the Law Commission has made numerous efforts to bring in the law which delivers justice to not only the prosecution but also to the Accused i.e. Plea Bargaining.
According to the Black’s Law Dictionary ‘Plea Bargaining’ has been defined as “An agreement set up between the plaintiff and the defendant to come to a resolution about a case, without ever taking it to trial”, which is also known as Negotiating Agreement. In India, this legal system is defined under Chapter XXI-A from Section 265A to 265L in the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 which came into effect by the Criminal Amendment Act, 2005.
Origin of Plea Bargaining
The concept of plea bargaining was first introduced in the United States which took ages to become a famous practice in the American Criminal Justice System. As a result, more than 75 percent of the criminal cases are resolved by Plea Bargaining. The United States got its constitutionality by the landmark case Brady v United States.
Plea Bargaining also refers to pre-trial negotiation between the Accused and Prosecution. It was introduced in our Indian legal System by Amendment Act, 2005 after issuing of many reports by the Law Commission where the Report was 142nd Reports of Law Commission highlighted the issue where many Accused spent time in jail before the trial which is more than the punishment of the crime he/she committed and also pointed out that there is a need of having a law like, plea bargaining as it will also affect the delayed justice. The Law Commission believed that ‘Justice delayed is justice denied’. Later 154th Report of the Law Commission was brought up with a concern that there should not be delays in the criminal trials and appeals. Further, the 177th Report also highlighted the need to bring up the law like Plea Bargaining. But the judiciary found that plea bargaining is against the public policy which was also upheld in various judgments.
In Murlidhar Meghraj Loya v. State of Maharashtra (AIR 1976 SC 1929), the Court held that negotiating criminal matters like food offenses, or economic crimes in a country like India is like opposing the society and harming the society’s interests.
In Kasambhai Abdul Rehman Bhai Sheikh v. the State of Gujarat (1980) 3 SCC 120, the Court held that- “the practice of Plea Bargaining was unconstitutional, illegal and would tend to encourage corruption, collusion and pollute the pure fount of justice.”
In Uttar Pradesh v. Chandrika, AIR 2000 SC 164, the court held that the mere acceptance or admission of the guilt cannot be a ground for the reduction of the punishment.
But after the Amendment Act, 2005, the concept of plea bargaining was been introduced in the criminal legal system after which the Court is left with only one option i.e., to interpret the law and not to make the law.
Types of Plea Bargaining
In India, plea bargaining has been based on the doctrine of Nolo Contendere which means ‘I do not want to contest’. It is of three types: Sentence Bargaining, Charge Bargaining, and Fact bargaining. Where the Accused admits his guilt which results in a lesser punishment sums up the Sentence Bargaining. Negotiation of dropping a few charges from multiple charges is known as Charge Bargaining. Lastly, a negotiation that involves admission to certain facts in return for an agreement not to introduce certain other facts is called fact bargaining.
Benefits of Plea Bargaining
Plea bargaining helps the State, the prosecution, and the Accused to dispose of the criminal matter but there are some of the pointers where one cannot avail the advantages of plea bargaining and they are:
- When the offense committed has the punishment of more than 7 years.
- When the offense has been committed towards the women or the child below 18 years of age.
- When he has been previously convicted for the same offense i.e., Habitual offender.
- When the offense committed affects the socio-economic status of the country.
Benefits to the Prosecution:
This is a quick justice method where one can get justice without putting much labor and also without wasting much time in the Court he can easily be compensated with the discretion of the Court. Hence, Justice is also not denied as it is not delayed.
Benefits to the Accused:
With the admission of the guilt to the offense committed he provokes the provision of having the lesser punishment or the reduction of the charges. He can then avail of the period of probation or admonition, which may not affect his career. It also saves time and money.
In the leading case of Kasambhai Abdul Rehman Bhai Sheikh v. the State of Gujarat, it was held that plea bargaining is unconstitutional and it allows the Accused to escape from the crime committed and it violates Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. It was further held that the procedure of bargaining the punishment is unconstitutional and unjust. Indeed the Plea Bargaining was banned in some of the jurisdictions like Alaska and El Paso. Where Alaska banned plea bargaining from 1975 to 1993 which raised the number of trials within a few years and in El Paso it was banned from 1978 to 1984 which double the trial rate and civil judges were appointed to assist the increased criminal trials.
Further people also believe that invoking the provision of plea bargaining sometimes may not lead to a fair trial as it can involve corruption or if done by involving police it can lead to coercion or if the application of plea bargaining made by the accused is rejected then it can be used against the accused.
The criminal legal system is overburdened by the matters coming up day by day so there is a need of ending up the cases as soon as possible. This is the reason, the Amendment Act has introduced the law of plea bargaining, which resulted in limiting and restricting the scope so that it does not appear to be against the public policy. The concept of plea bargaining no doubt undermines the public policy as it can be used for making the conviction of the innocent and lighter punishments for the richer. But we have no option left apart from adopting the law as the benefits of plea bargaining is availed by the victim and the accused both.
- Brady v. the United States (397 U.S. 742).
- Murlidhar Meghraj Loya v. State of Maharashtra AIR 1976 SC 1929.
- Kasambhai Abdul Rehman Bhai Sheikh v. the State of Gujarat; (1980) 3 SCC 120.
- Uttar Pradesh v. Chandrika, AIR 2000 SC 164.
- Vishavjeet Chaudhary and Arindam Bharadwaj (2020). Plea Bargaining In India. [online] Livelaw.in. Available at: https://www.livelaw.in/know-the-law/plea-bargaining-in-india-156160 [Accessed 26 May 2020].
- Team @Law Times Journal (2019). Plea bargaining – Law Times Journal. [online] Law Times Journal. Available at: http://lawtimesjournal.in/plea-bargaining/ [Accessed 26 May 2020].
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