Duhaime's Law Dictionary


Plea Bargaining Definition:

Negotiations during a criminal trial in which the accused agrees to admit to a smaller crime in exchange for which the prosecutor agrees to ask for a more lenient sentence than would have been recommended if the original charge had of been proceeded with.

The Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of New York, Justice Fisher presiding, used these words in People v Grant:

"[T]he practice of plea bargaining ... serves important functions for both prosecutors and defendants. Indeed, plea bargaining is predicated on mutuality of advantage. In return for surrendering the right to put the prosecution to its proof at a trial and for giving up the possibility of acquittal, the defendant receives consideration, almost always in the form of a sentence more lenient than might reasonably be expected upon a conviction after trial. And, in return for agreeing to the more lenient sentence, the prosecution obtains the certainty of conviction and punishment without having to expose witnesses to the rigors of trial or to establish the defendant's guilt to a jury's satisfaction beyond a reasonable doubt.

"In practice, plea bargaining ... is a process by which the prosecution and the defendant, often with the active participation of the court, negotiate to find a disposition that is both acceptable to the court and prosecution and sufficiently lenient to induce the defendant to relinquish the right to a trial, and all the rights associated with a trial. Aside from statutory sentencing rules, the factors generally at play in plea negotiations include the nature of the conduct alleged, the defendant's criminal history, the likelihood of conviction after trial, the probable sentence after such a conviction, and the need to dispose of criminal cases without trial so that the particular local jurisdiction can manage its criminal caseload."

In R v Broekaert, at ¶29, Justice Hamilton defined a plea bargain as:

"... a situation where an accused person pleads guilty to the offence charged, or a lesser offence and, by doing so, gives up a viable defence, or provides another quid pro quo in exchange for a joint submission on sentence."

The normal rule of law is that judges are not bound by plea bargains although, as past lawyers themselves, they are generally aware of plea bargains and a reasonable recommendation of a prosecutor on sentencing is always heavily considered as it saves Court time and money, reduces inconvenience to the witnesses and victim, and encouraged persons to accept responsibility for their actions. In Pashe, the Court even stated that:

"... it should not be rejected unless there is good cause to do so."

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