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A Review of the Literature: Plea Bargaining and Ethics in the Criminal Justice System

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Plea bargaining is a significant portion of today’s criminal justice system. As Chief Justice Burger stated, “The disposition of criminal charges by agreement between the prosecutor and the accused, sometimes loosely called ‘plea bargaining,’ is an essential component of the administration of justice. Properly administered, it is to be encouraged” (Santobello v. New York, 1971). The practice of plea bargaining has generated thoughtful ethical debate with effective arguments on both sides. Prior to offering an opinion, an understanding and comparison of the points of view regarding its use along with the purpose, types, and effects of plea bargaining must take place. A plea bargain is a criminal case pact wherein one side offers sentence prearrangement to the other in return for a guilty plea (Bikel, 2004). This permits those who have been suspected of serious criminal acts the opportunity to considerably lessen the charges and escape a more severe penalty. The prosecuting attorney will usually bargain this, or the initial charge will endure with a recommendation for a lighter punishment. With these forms of inducements, the courts save time and money swiftly and efficiently (Feješ, 2012). A plea bargain can be introduced by either the prosecuting or defense counsel with both sides negotiating throughout the process. This practice can be swift or entail numerous protracted conferences that encompass altering the provisions of the bargain until an agreement is attained. Both the prosecution and defense need to endorse the conditions of the plea bargain prior to its tender to the court of law. Plea deals are separated into two classifications: explicit plea bargaining and implicit plea bargaining (Schmalleger, 2012). Explicit plea bargaining arises when the prosecution propose that the suspect be charged with a less significant offense in exchange for a guilty plea. With implicit plea bargains, no compromise of leniency is assured by the prosecutor. This classification of plea bargaining merely suggests the possibility of leniency if there is a plea of guilty by the defendant (Bibas, 2011). Reducing a sentence is included in charge bargaining, sentence bargaining, and count bargaining. Once the defense accepts the option of charge bargaining, they will propose a sentence reduction to the prosecution and/or magistrate in return for a guilty plea. Charge bargaining can produce extremely volatile public and political responses (Devers, 2011). If a defendant is initially charged with a felonious act, the acceptance of charge bargaining could result in a lowering of charges to a lesser misdemeanor offense. Sentence bargaining involves the trade of a guilty plea with the assurance of the prosecutor to request a lighter or alternative sentence, however, this agreement is not guaranteed. It is the presiding judge’s choice, after a thorough review of all the circumstances and facts, to approve or deny the request (Klein, 2006). Encompassing both positive and negative features, sentence bargaining has the propensity to be seen as controversial (Smith, 1987). For instance, a defendant who is indicted for a capital offense, with the possibility of a death sentence, accepts a plea bargain that lessens their penalty to life in prison with the opportunity for parole (Scheidegger, 2009). This resulting plea can be interpreted by many as morally corrupt and a miscarriage of the judicial system to the victims and a reward to the criminal for simply acknowledging their guilt. Notwithstanding its adverse characteristic, sentence bargaining is an exceedingly significant portion of the system (Covey, 2013). This method of bargaining is advantageous in cases where the prosecution does not have a solid case to assure a conviction, or in the absence of sufficient evidence to meet the requirements for a death penalty case. The supporting argument is the use of sentence bargaining in capital cases guarantees the conviction and punishment of the defendant. A suspect facing multiple charges could be offered an agreement designated as count bargaining. Particularly, a proposal is prepared to decrease the quantity of charges, customarily by dismissal if the offender agrees to plead guilty to the reduced charges. For example, an arrestee, indicted for several counts of possession of a controlled substance, is presented with a reduction to just one count in exchange for pleading guilty. This choice of bargaining results in a deceptive criminal history accompanied by a greatly abbreviated penalty (Bushway & Redlich, 2012). Count bargaining’s solitary benefit is its simplification of the case presented to the court.
This controversial topic embraces effective arguments by both of those who support and those who oppose the usage of plea bargaining (McConville, 1998). There are several urgings in support of plea bargains. Followers contend that a plea bargain can be enormously beneficial to the defense, prosecution, and the court. It enables the District Attorney to lessen court costs and concentrate their fiscal budget on prominent legal proceedings as well as securing favorable convictions. Additionally, it precludes the victim from being victimized all over again. The Defense Attorney relies on plea bargains as a methodology of decreasing their arduous caseloads together with a speedy system to adjudicate criminal cases (McMunigal, 2010). Some opponents of plea bargaining assert this is done so as to quickly conclude those cases that do not afford abundant monetary gain thus greater responsiveness can be dedicated to the affluent clients. Justices also benefit considerably as a consequence of plea bargaining. Their workload is drastically reduced, and their professional status and reputation can be elevated. Plea bargaining furthermore decreases the need for juries and can considerably lower costs to the taxpayer (Lippke, 2012). For those who oppose the practice of plea agreements, several opinions are presented as well. The belief that countless defendants are swayed to accept a plea bargain due to the likelihood of tougher punishment after conviction at trial for declining the offer is prominent. Plea bargaining subverts the necessity of proof beyond a reasonable doubt and that plea concession is markedly more likely than trial to bring about the conviction of innocent (Lynch, 2003). Many accused of lesser misdemeanor offenses accept the agreement in order to safeguard minimal wage loss attributable to reoccurring court appearances. Still others do so because of their lack of confidence in the ability to provide a credible defense, and on occasion as a result of shame. The practice of plea bargaining is also considered cause for “unjust sentencing” by many. An additional dispute is that the appropriate lawful consequence is threatened as a result of coercion, demands, and remunerations (Lynch, 2003). This practice directs the suspect’s fate on a lone strategic decision, which, many feel, is extraneous to just desert, deterrence, or every other applicable objective of criminal proceedings. Then again, some detractors maintain that plea bargaining consequences embrace unjustified leniency for lawbreakers and that it stimulates a pessimistic view of the legal process. Those against plea bargaining maintain that suspects are at an advantage without it for the reason that each case would then be treated objectively. Prosecutorial funds would only permit prosecution in those cases where there is solid evidence to convict. Accordingly, fewer innocent defendants would be pressured into guilty pleas. Furthermore, it would be less likely for violent and repeat offenders to be given lenient sentences. Thus, many believe that lacking plea bargaining, the quantity of cases pending a trial would endure or would be condensed. Prosecutorial discretion likewise has led to severer penalties for those suspects who decide on going to trial, instead of accepting a plea (Cummings, 2010). Various researchers have found that persons who choose to go to trial are increasingly likely to be given stricter punishments than persons who agree to a plea when equivalent offenses are deliberated.
The decision as to what plea agreement kind to offer a defendant clearly is reliant on countless variables, and it is insupportable to declare that any solitary type of bargaining is superior. It is, however, critical upon the prosecution to contemplate, among other things: whether the law court is likely to assent or reject a plea; whether an agreement on one or more charges will result in a suitable punishment; and whether the intended plea is consistent with the practice of the federal or state prosecuting attorney’s office (Cassidy, 2011). Understanding of these and additional facts must be integrated into the assessment as to what bargain type to afford to a suspect and to the District Attorney or the Assistant Attorney General (Stern, 2012). After thorough exploration of the ancillary and divergent ethical opinions on the use of plea bargains, I have concluded that they are a necessary evil of our criminal justice process. While the hopes of victims revolve around the contention of severe and maximum penalty for those convicted, the judicial process requires sufficient time, and available resources to facilitate a trial for criminal cases undertaken (Pollock, 2014). For most suspects, the primary advantage of plea bargaining is receiving a lighter punishment for a lesser charge rather than a more severe outcome from going to trial and receiving a guilty verdict. Also, the result of any given trial is usually unpredictable. On the other hand, a plea bargain offers both prosecution and defense with particular control over the decision (Church Jr., 1979). By no means is the current application of plea agreements a perfect system. Perhaps at some point revised guidelines concerning specific crimes will mandate minimum sentences as a condition of a plea bargain. Until such time, the practice of plea bargaining promises a judicious and economical alternative to a prolonged jury trial, and guarantees that justice is served.

References
Bibas, S. (2011). Regulating the Plea-Bargaining Market: From Caveat Emptor to Consumer Protection. California Law Review, p1117-1161.
Bikel, O. (Director). (2004). Confronting the Plea [Motion Picture].
Bushway, S., & Redlich, A. (2012). Is Plea Bargaining in the 'Shadow of the Trial' a Mirage? Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 437-454.
Cassidy, R. M. (2011, October). Plea Bargaining, Discovery, and the Intractable Problem of Impeachment Disclosures. Vanderbilt Law Review, 1429-1487.
Church Jr., T. W. (1979). IN DEFENSE OF "BARGAIN JUSTICE". Law & Society Review, 509-525.
Covey, R. D. (2013). Plea-Bargaining Law After Lafler and Frye. Duquesne Law Review, 595.
Cummings, L. P. (2010). CAN AN ETHICAL PERSON BE AN ETHICAL PROSECUTOR? A SOCIAL COGNITIVE APPROACH TO SYSTEMIC REFORM. Cardozo Law Review, 2139-2159.
Devers, L. (2011). Plea and Charge Bargaining. Arlington: CSR, Incoporated.
Feješ, I. (2012). American Model of a Plea Bargaining in Criminal Proceedings, With Accent on Some Negativ Aspects. Proceedings of Novi Sad Faculty of Law, 119-143.
Klein, S. R. (2006). Enhancing the Judicial Role in Criminal Plea and Sentence Bargaining. Texas Law Review, 2023-2053.
Lippke, R. L. (2012). The Ethics of Plea Bargaining. Harvard Law Review, 1306-1306.
Lynch, T. (2003). The Case Against Plea Bargaining. REGULATION, 24-27.
McConville, M. (1998). Plea Bargaining: Ethics and Politics. Journal of Law & Society, 526-526.
McMunigal, K. C. (2010). Defense Counsel and Plea Bargain Perjury. Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law, 653-658.
Pollock, J. M. (2014). Ethical Dilemmas and Decisions in Criminal Justice. Belmont: Wadsworth.
Santobello v. New York, 70—98 (United States Supreme Court December 20, 1971).
Scheidegger, K. S. (2009). The Death Penalty and Plea Bargaining to Life Sentences. Sacramento: Criminal Justice League Foundation.
Schmalleger, F. (2012). Criminal Justice: A Brief Introduction. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education Inc.
Smith, D. A. (1987). Plea Bargaining Controversy, The. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 949-968.
Stern, A. N. (2012). Plea Bargaining, Innocence, and the Prosecutor's Duty to 'Do Justice'. Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics, 1027.…...

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