Plea Bargaining in California

Plea Bargaining in CaliforniaOne of the tools used in the criminal system is a plea bargain. However, while plea bargains have proved effective in some cases, they do not come without controversy either. First to define, a plea bargain is an agreement between the prosecution and the accused party. The accused pleads guilty to the crime they have been charged with, and in return the prosecution provides a deal that can include either a lighter sentence or decreased prison time. Other variations of compromises are possible as well.

Given that someone has plead guilty but then receives a lighter punishment without going through a complete trial, some have argued that this circumvents the criminal justice system. On the other hand, others argue that plea bargains allow for the efficient running of the justice system. Many pre-trial detention facilities have been overcrowded and public prosecutors are given almost an impossible number of cases to deal with. As such, even though plea bargains are a legitimate legal tool for the prosecution (and the defence), they are not a neutral mechanism.

However, it is important to note that plea bargains are not allowed to be offered in every possible case. Proposition 8 showed that Californians rejected the use of plea bargains for crimes including violent sex offenses and serious felonies. Furthermore, given that there are mandatory minimum sentences for some crimes, for said crimes the prosecutor cannot offer a sentence that meets a lower burden than the minimum. However, even this can be controversially misused.

In general, plea bargains do offer some positives because given a trial would not fully complete, there would be lower trial costs and fees for lawyers. Whenever a plea bargain is presented to a defendant, the defendant should make sure to properly discuss their options with an experienced criminal defence lawyer. Once the defendant has agreed to the plea, it must be then argued in front of a judge, who then approves the case ending with a plea bargain.


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