The word “Plea” generally means an appeal, prayer, or a formal statement by the defendant and the word “bargaining” generally means negotiation or settlement and hence the meaning of the word plea bargaining can be summed up as an appeal or a formal statement by the accused for negotiation with the prosecution.
A plea bargain is basically an agreement between defence and the prosecution side in which the defendant pleads guilty to criminal charges or pay compensation.And in exchange the prosecution side drops some charges or makes a recommendation to the judge to enter a specific sentence which is acceptable to defence.
Plea Bargaining in India
The concept of plea bargaining was not there in Indian Criminal Law since its inception.It is a recent addition in Indian Criminal Justice System.The law commision in its 142nd report which was presented in 1991 suggested to introduce this concept in India.And further Malimath committee headed by Justice V.S. Malimath on criminal justice reforms also supported the recommendation of the Law commision.Based on these two recommendations the legislature presented a bill known as Criminal Law(Amendment) bill,2003 under which a new chapter XXIA has been inserted in CRPC.
Section (265A to 265L) lays down the principle of plea bargain in the Code of Criminal Procedure (Cr.P.C).
The validity of plea bargain is dependent on three essential components:
1.A known waiver of rights
2.A voluntary waiver
3.A factual basis to support the charges to which the defendant is pleading guilty.
The courts usually take proof to ensure that the above three components are satisfied and will only then accept the recommendation of the prosecution to plea bargain.
Types of Plea bargaining
Plea bargaining can be broadly classified into three types:
1.Charge Bargain:Accused pleads guilty for a lesser charge Ex:Pleading for manslaughter for dropping the charges of murder.
2.Sentence Bargain:Accused bargains for a lesser sentence(reduced jails sentence or fine associated with the crime)
3.Fact Bargain: Accused admits to certain facts in order to prevent other incriminating facts from being introduced into evidence.
Among these three types of plea bargain,sentence bargain is the most commonly used form of plea bargaining.
Factors considered before entering into Plea-Bargaining
1.Strength of evidence
2.Seriousness of the crime
3.Prospect of a guilty verdict at trial
1.Outcome of the trial could not be predicted,but plea bargaining provides both the parties some control over the result(End of uncertainty).
2.Reduces the time frame of criminal trials
3.Reduce backlog of cases piled up in the courts(Speedy justice)
4.Reduce congestion in jails
5.Saves litigation cost and time of both the parties.
6.Make provision of compensation to the victim of crimes by the accused
7.Culprits receive a lighter sentence for a less severe charge than what might result from taking the case to trial and losing.
1.May condone criminal activities on payment of fine or compensation or both.
2.Can encourage criminals,increase crimes.
3.Guilty are not punished properly for the crimes they commit.
4.Victim can be bribed to agree to settle for a lesser charge(Corruption).
5.May waive the right to fair trial by accused.
6.Possibility of innocent defendants pleading guilty(to avoid lengthy trials)
7.Involvement of coercion by the investigating agencies(e.g Police)
8.By involving the court in the Plea Bargaining process the court impartially is impugned.
Procedure under CrPC
1.The accused will have to file an application for plea bargain and the accused can do it any time before the trial commences.
2.The application should be accompanied with an affidavit stating that the accused had voluntarily opted for plea bargain.
3.Then the court will issue notice to the prosecution and will examine the accused in camera to satisfy itself that the application is filed by the accused voluntarily.
4.If the court is satisfied that application is voluntary.it shall provide time to both parties to work out a Mutually satisfactory disposition .The courts would have to ensure that the process of disposition is voluntary.
5.If a satisfactory disposition has been worked out between both the parties,the court will prepare a report which will have to be signed by the judge and both the parties.
6.Now the case will be disposed off in open court and the court will direct the accused to pay the agreed compensation to the victim and hear the parties on quantum of punishment to the accused.
7.If the Court finds that minimum punishment has been provided under the law for the offence committed by the accused, it may sentence the accused to half of such minimum punishment; or it may sentence the accused to one-fourth of the punishment provided or extendable, as the case may be, for such offence.
8.On the contrary,if the court finds that the application filed by the accused is involuntary or that he is a prior convict of the same offence, the application will be rejected and the case will be sent back to regular trial.
Provision to save the accused
The statements or facts stated by an accused in an application for plea bargaining shall not be used for any other purpose except for the purpose of plea bargaining application.
The judgment based on plea-bargaining shall be final and there would be no statutory right of appeal against it(except under Article 136(Special leave petition) and writ under Article 226 and Article 227 of Indian Constitution.
Cases to which Plea Bargaining would not impact:
1.Crimes for which the punishment exceeds seven years.
2.Crime against women.
3.Crime against children below the age of 14 years.
4.Crimes against SC and ST.
5.Crime done by serious offenders.
7.Crimes punishable with death or life imprisonment.
8.Offences that affect the socio economic conditions of the country.
Supreme Court Judgments on Plea Bargaining
Indian judiciary has adopted a very strict approach towards plea bargaining.The Supreme Court of India has initially criticized the concept of plea bargaining through its various judgements.The approach of the Supreme Court towards this concept was that it does not recognize the concept of plea-bargaining and considers it illegal and unconstitutional and it can be seen in a series of cases.
The Supreme Court observed that “in our opinion, it is very wrong for a court to enter into a bargain of this character. Offences should be tried(Madan Lal Ram Chandra Daga v. State of Maharashtra)
The Supreme Court resisted a plea of guilt based on plea-bargaining, as it would be opposed to public policy, if an accused were to be convicted by inducing him to plead guilty, by holding out a light sentence as an allurement. Such a procedure would be clearly unreasonable, unfair, and unjust and would be violative of Article 21 of the Constitution unfolded in Maneka Gandhi’s case.(Kasambhai v. State of Gujarat)
The Hon’ble Supreme Court held that,“if the dispute…finds itself in the field of criminal law, “Law Enforcement” repudiates the idea of compromise as immoral, or at best a necessary evil. The “State” can never compromise. It must “enforce the law”.(Murlidhar Meghraj Loya v. State of Maharashtra)
The Supreme Court held that the practice of plea bargaining is unconstitutional, illegal and could encourage corruption and collusion.(Kachhia Patel Shantilal Koderlal v. State of Gujarat and Anr)
The Supreme Court said that the act of inducing and leading the accused to plead guilty under an assurance or a promise will violate Article 21 of the Constitution of India.(Thippaswamy v. State of Karnataka)
However,with time ,there are cases where the benefits of plea bargaining were acknowledged by the courts and the courts started applauding this concept as a boon to the Indian Criminal Justice System.
The court said that whether the concept is to be applied or not is to be decided on a case to case basis. Taking into account the increasing problems in the criminal justice system, the Court was of the opinion that the purpose of the law makers is to create laws that help in providing easy, expeditious and cheap justice.(State Of Gujarat v. Natwar Harchandji Thakor).
The Jharkhand High Court has set an example by reducing the sentence applying provisions of plea bargaining to offence under section 148 of the IPC(Sakti Pado Gope v. The State of Jharkhand 2008)
With the passage of time and after considering the encumbrance on the courts, the Indian courts have finally felt the need of Pleabargaining in Indian legal system.The concept of plea bargaining has both advantages and disadvantages. The concept of plea bargaining is currently in an evolving phase in India and Indian Judicial System will adapt it very soon.This concept reduces severity of penalty and it acts as a shortcut to dispose of the cases,with or without justice.The adoption of the concept of plea bargaining was clearly the need of the hour and it can go a long way to attribute efficiency and speedy caseload disposition to Indian Criminal Justice System.
To sum up, the concept of plea bargaining is beneficial to both the accused and victim of a crime in one or the other way and also to stop the possible abuse of this process ,enough safeguards are and powers are provided to the courts.Plea bargain is a pragmatic vision to overcome crowded criminal courts and prisons and a potential way to improve ligation efficiency and rationalize judicial resources, infrastructure and expenses.Plea bargaining helps in the fast disposal of cases and act as a benefit for both the sides. Long- standing disputes can be easily resolved and it also leads to the reduction in the record of less serious offences in the court.The main benefit of this concept is reduction in the delay in the trial process. It also has many disadvantages which harm the base of prosperity in the country.But plea bargaining is a balanced concept and when a change is brought there is always people retraining to it and it takes time for the people to accept the change.This concept of plea bargaining would be very soon accepted in our country.
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