A plea bargain can have advantages and disadvantages for the defendant, the lawyers involved, and the criminal justice system in general. It often saves the time and expense of a trial, but it does typically mean that the defendant must plead guilty to some crime. Many people often wonder if justice is really served when a person pleads to a lesser offense and is given a lighter punishment than they might have had they been found guilty of the original charge.
When a person is accused of a crime, there is a good chance that his or her lawyer and the prosecuting attorney will attempt to work out a deal. In plea bargaining, the defendant willingly pleads guilty to a crime lesser than the one for which he or she has been accused. This means that no trial will occur and the defendant is convicted of a crime after entering a plea of no contest or guilty.
When there is strong evidence of a crime being committed, the person may be willing to admit to a less serious crime, but an innocent person might not be so eager. He or she would still claim guilt for the crime, and that could have serious ramifications. An innocent person may choose instead to ask for a jury trial, but there can be pressure from lawyers to avoid this, though ultimately it is the accused's right to choose a plea. The defendant's lawyer might be most convincing if the plea means no jail time, but even without incarceration, an innocent person may have just admitted to a crime that he or she didn't commit. This could mean carrying a criminal record, paying fines, or being on probation, regardless of innocence.
The defense attorney benefits from plea bargaining by avoiding the expense of a trial. He also reduces the charges against his client. On the other hand, he doesn't get to prove the innocence of a client and may occasionally try to convince people to plead guilty when they are not.
Prosecutors want to convict people charged of crimes, but they have huge caseloads and, typically, there is not enough time to prosecute every accused person in a trial. Bargaining delivers a conviction, but it may not be the strongest one possible. Usually, prosecutors prioritize trying exceptionally horrific cases, but they will be more willing to negotiate crimes that carry less weight.
There are a number of pros and cons of plea deals when it comes to the criminal courts. These are congested places that often welcome bargains since it means not having to schedule a trial, which just makes things busier. Still, it can be argued that a downside to many criminal cases being settled by plea is that true justice, which is the responsibility of the court to carry out, may be sidestepped in favor of expediency. In countries where right to a jury trial is considered sacrosanct, the busyness of a court should not be considered. Some believe all defending their innocence should never "plead down," and instead should always be given a jury trial.