There is a very famous quote: “Justice Delayed is Justice Denied.” Keeping this in mind, the right to speedy trial has been declared as a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution. Unfortunately, this Fundamental Right to Speedy Justice has largely remained a dead letter and the Indian judiciary has remained exceptionally slow in delivering justice. There are more than 2.18 crore cases pending in district courts across the country; 12 states have more than 5 lakh cases to decide; While a little more than one case, on an average, is awaiting conclusion for at least 10 years. The majority of the cases in India end in acquittal and the conviction rate is low. The legislature has recognized this problem of the backlog of cases and as a result, officially introduced the concept of ‘Plea Bargaining’ by way of Criminal Law(Amendment) Act of 2005 in order to curb this growing menace of back logging of cases in the Indian Courts and to ensure rate of conviction.
Black’s Law Dictionary defines it as: “The process whereby the accused and the prosecutor in case work out a mutually satisfactory disposition of the case subject to the Court approval. It usually involves the accused pleading guilty to a lesser or to only one or some of the courts of a multicount indictment in return for a lighter than that possible for the graver charge.”
According to Oxford Dictionary: - “Plea Bargaining is an arrangement between prosecution and defendant whereby the defendant pleads guilty to a lesser charge in exchange for a more lenient sentence or an arrangement to drop other charges.”
A “Plea Bargain” is a practice whereby the accused forgoes his right to plead not guilty and demand a full trial and instead uses a right to bargain for a benefit.
The object of “Plea Bargaining” is to reduce the risk of undesirable orders on either side. Also, most of the Criminal Courts are over-burdened and hence unable to dispose of the cases on merits. trial can take days, weeks, months and years, while guilty pleas can be arranged in minutes. In other words, “plea bargaining” is a deal offered by the prosecutor to include the defendant to plead guilty.
TYPES OF PLEAS
• CHARGE BARGAIN- where the accused has the option of admitting guilt and setting for a less charge or where the prosecution allows the accused to guilty to some of the charges framed against him.
• SENTENCE BARGAIN - It refers to a promise by the prosecutor to recommend a specific sentence or to refrain from making any sentence recommendation in exchange for a guilty plea.
• FACT BARAGAIN -The accused has the option of admitting guilt and settling for a less incriminatory presentation of facts.
Plea Bargaining in the United States
The concept and practice of Plea bargaining in not new but dates backs to a century. The Bill of Rights makes no mention of the practice when establishing the fair trial principle in the Sixth Amendment but the constitutionality of plea bargaining had constantly been upheld there.
The Supreme Court of USA in Brady V United States [297 US 742-25 L.Ed. 2d 747] and Santobello Vs New York [404 US 257] (1971); Huffo Vs Ross [50 L.Ed. 2d 876] Chaffin Vs Stynchombe [412 US 17(1973)] Blackledge Vs Allison [52 L.Ed. 2d 136]: Weatherford Vs Bursy [429 US 545 (1977)] upheld the constitutional validity and the significant role the concept of the plea bargaining plays in the disposal of criminal cases. It has approved this practice mainly on the premise that the accused who are convicted on the basis of negotiated pleas of the guilt would ordinarily have been convicted had they been subjected to trial processes.
Plea bargaining, perused with the aim of reducing caseload is something that has been immensely successful in the United States of America, so much so that it has now become the norm rather than the exception. It is a significant part of the criminal justice system;
The vast majority of criminal cases in the United States are settled by plea bargain rather than by a Jury Trial.
The majority of individuals accused of a crime give up their Constitutional Rights and plead guilty.
Plea Bargain is subject to the approval of the Court, and different states and jurisdictions have different rules.
The Prosecuting Agency has a leading role in this process and it has to reduce or dismiss some of the charges against the accused and also to make recommendations to the Court about the sentences in exchange for a guilty plea.
Plea Bargaining in World.
In countries such as England and Wales, Victoria, Australia, plea bargaining takes place where the defendant would plead to some charges and the prosecutor would drop the remainder.
Plea bargaining occurs in scenarios – when the defendant testifies against the co-conspirator; and where the lesser charge is offered due to the difficulty of proving the greater charge. While the European countries are legitimizing the concept of plea bargaining, the Scandinavian countries largely maintain against the practice.
Plea bargaining in China was introduced as a pilot project very recently in the year 2016 for the defendants who may be sentenced a less than 3 years for the charge of minor . At the legislative session of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee the proposal for plea bargaining i.e. to allow suspects and defendants to plead guilty in return for a lesser charge was approved. The measures were piloted in 18 major cities of the country which included Beijing and Shanghai. Suspects and defendants who are willing to confess, agree with prosecutors’ crime and sentencing proposals, and sign affidavits, are to be given mitigated punishments. It is estimated by government that the pilot will encourage “pleading guilty to a lesser charge” while protecting rights of defendants and victims and protecting society’s interests.
Introduction of Plea Bargaining in India
Seeing the success of plea bargaining in the United States, India has made several attempts to introduce the concept of plea bargaining.
To reduce the delay in disposing of the criminal cases, the 154th Report of the Law Commission, first recommended the introduction of 'plea bargaining' as an alternative method to deal with huge arrears of criminal case.
This recommendation of the Law Commission found support in Malimath Committee Report the Committee on Criminal Justice Reforms made a recommendation to introduce a system of plea bargaining into the criminal justice system of India to facilitate the earlier resolution of criminal cases and reduce the burden on the courts (Recommendation 106) was made.
A formal proposal for incorporating plea bargaining into the Indian criminal justice system was put forth in 2003 through the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill 2005, which was passed by the Rajya Sabha on December 13, and by the Lok Sabha on December 22, 2005. The statement of objects and reasons, inter alia, mentions that the disposal of criminal trials in Courts takes considerable time and that in many cases trials do not commence for as long as three to five years after the accused was remitted to judicial custody. Though not by the criminal jurisprudence, it is seen as an alternative method to deal with the huge arrears of criminal cases.
The Supreme Court of India has examined the concept of plea bargaining in Murlidhar Meghraj Lyoa Vs State of Maharashtra [ AIR 1976 SC 1929] and Kasambhai Vs State of Gujrat [ AIR 1980SC 854]. The Court did not approve of the procedure of plea bargaining on the basis of informal inducement. In Kasambahi’s case the court squarely observed that the conviction based on the plea guilty entered by the accused as a result of plea bargaining could not be sustained and that it was opposed to public policy to convict the accused by inducing him to confess to a plea of guilty “on allurement being held out of him that if he enters a plea of guilty he will be let off very lightly”.
In State of Uttar Pradesh Vs Chandrika, the Apex Court held that it is settled law that on the basis of plea bargaining Court cannot dispose of the criminal cases. The Court has to decide it on merits. If the accused his guilt, sentence is required to be implemented. The Court further held in the same case that mere acceptance or admission of the guilt should not be a ground for reduction of the sentence. Nor can the accused bargain with the Court that as he is pleading guilty the sentence reduced.
Despite the Judicial view, the legislature found it acceptable and finally section 265-A to 265-L were added in the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 so as to provide for rising the plea bargaining in certain types of criminal cases. The provisions were thus fully incorporated into the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 as Chapter XXI-A through the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2005.
Salient Features of Plea Bargaining Under the Criminal Procedure Code
• Plea bargaining is applicable only in respect of those for which the punishment of imprisonment is up to a period of seven years.
• It does not apply where such the socio-economic condition of the country or been committed against a woman or a child below the age of fourteen years.
• The application for plea bargaining should be filed by the accused voluntarily. A person accused of an may file an application for plea bargaining in the Court in which such is pending for trial.
• The complainant and the accused are given time to work out a mutually satisfactory disposition of the case, which may include giving to the victim by the accused, compensation and other expenses incurred during the case.
• Where a satisfactory disposition of the case has been worked out, the Court should dispose of the case by sentencing the accused one-fourth of the punishment provided or extendable, as the case may be for such .
• The statement or facts stated by an accused in an application for plea bargaining shall not be used for any purpose other than for plea bargaining. The judgment delivered by the Court in the case of plea bargaining shall be final and no appeal shall lie in any court against such judgment (except Special Leave 18 Petition under Article 136 and writ petition under Articles 226 and 227 of the Constitution).
While plea bargaining is beneficial to the accused and victim of a crime, enough safeguards are required to be placed to stop abuse of this process. bargain is a vision to overcome crowded criminal courts and prisons and a way to improve litigation efficiency. Plea Bargaining may be a hopeful prospect in the criminal justice delivery system of India, if rightly propagated and applied, therefore benefitting millions of under trials in jails for defined crimes and saving high expenses and space borne by the State in maintaining them.
Author: Navin Kumar Jaggi
Co-Author: Rishabh Bharadwaj