Plea Bargaining means pre-trial negotiations between the Accused and the Prosecution during which the Accused agrees to plead guilty for certain concessions by the Prosecutor. It is founded on the ‘Nolo Contendere’ concept, which translates to “I do not desire to contend.”
Due to the evident inefficiencies of the Indian Criminal Justice System, which has a plethora of backlogs, extremely lengthy trial durations, and a startlingly low conviction rate, in its 142nd report, published in 1991, the Law Commission of India emphasised the necessity for Plea Bargaining. However, owing to the rising delicacies in the speedy disposal of cases and the overburdened judiciary, the necessity for the notion of plea bargaining was later again emphasised in the 177th report of the Law Commission of India in 2001.
Through an amendment in the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), Plea Bargaining was introduced on 11th January, 2006. However, it became enforceable from 5th July, 2006. It is considered as a mechanism to decrease the costs and resources incurred in enforcement and free up the Court’s time to concentrate on more important issues.
Objectives Of Plea Bargaining
- Speedy disposal of Criminal cases:- Plea Bargaining also helps reduce the delay in the disposal of Criminal Trials and appeals as also to alleviate the sufferings of undertrial prisoners.
- Plea bargaining enables prosecutors to resolve cases without subjecting the victim to a drawn-out legal procedure or making them testify in a trial.
- Plea bargains are significant because they enable offenders who take responsibility for their conduct to be compensated for their actions and for saving the already limited resources by skipping further investigation and legal proceedings.
Kinds Of Plea Bargaining
There are three kinds of plea bargaining: (1) charge bargaining, (2) sentence bargaining, and (3) fact bargaining.
- In Charge Bargaining, a person pleads guilty in exchange for lesser charges. It happens when the offender pleads guilty to charges that are serious in nature.
- In Sentence Bargaining, the offender is offered lesser or alternative punishments in exchange for pleading guilty. A Sentence bargain may enable the prosecution to get a conviction on the most severe charge while assuring the defendant of an acceptable sentence.
- The third and least common type of bargaining is Fact Bargaining. It involves the admission of certain facts that are true and verifiable, thus reducing the necessity for the prosecution to prove them, in exchange for an agreement not to introduce other facts.
When Are Plea Bargains Made?
- The report has been sent by the officer in charge of the police station in accordance with Section 173 Cr.P.C., stating that the accused has allegedly committed an offence that is not punishable by death, life imprisonment, or imprisonment for a period exceeding seven years; or
- A Magistrate has taken cognizance of a complaint regarding an offence that is not punishable by death, or imprisonment for life, or imprisonment for a term exceeding seven years, and after examining the complaint and witnesses in accordance with Section 200 of CrPC, has issued process in accordance with Section 204 of CrPC.
Who Is Eligible To Apply For A Plea Bargain?
Any person who has attained the age of majority, accused of an offense that is punishable not more than 7 years of imprisonment, may put an application for Plea Bargain, provided that the trial is pending against him.
However, there are a few more exceptions to this rule :
- If the offence is committed against a woman or a child below the age of 14, then such accused person is ineligible to apply for Plea Bargaining;
- The accused must not have been convicted of the same offence previously;
- The said offence should not affect the socio-economic condition of the Country; and
- The Accused does not come under Section 2(k) of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act of 2000.
Acts which render plea bargaining inoperative.
- Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961.
- The Commission of Sati Prevention Act, 1987.
- The Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986.
- The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956.
- Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005.
- The SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989,
- The Explosives Act, 1884, etc.
are some of the acts in respect of which Plea Bargaining is not permissible.
Effect Of Plea Bargaining On The Victims
Plea bargaining has brought a victim centralized reform to the criminal justice system which gives better regard and respect for victims and their rights.
It accomplishes so by providing them with more options for a satisfying resolution of the case and by implementing a compensation plan. The legislation governing Plea Bargaining requires the Court to compensate crime victims after the conclusion of the plea negotiation process. The court then considers arguments from the parties about the severity of the sentence and the possibility of probation.
The Pros and Cons of Plea Bargaining can be explained using the following two Judgements:
- The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India in the case of State of U.P. Vs. Chandrikahad delivered a landmark judgement with reference to the legality behind the concept of Plea Bargaining.
The Court observed that “it is settled law that on the basis of Plea Bargaining, Courts cannot dispose of the criminal cases. The Courts have to decide the case on merits. If the Accused confesses his guilt, the same should not be a ground for a reduction in the sentence, nor can the Accused bargain his way out of the quantum of punishment after pleading guilty.”
Through this judgement, the Apex Court held that the concept of negotiated settlement cannot be permitted and that such a method of short-circuiting the hearing and deciding the criminal cases or appeals involving serious offences requires no encouragement. In furtherance, the Apex Court also held that neither the State, nor the Public Prosecutor, or even the Judge can bargain that evidence would not be led or appreciated in consideration of getting a flea bite sentence by pleading guilty.
This judgement by the Apex Court heavily emphasized that the cons of Plea Bargaining easily outweighed the pros of that of Plea Bargaining, and the same was delivered much prior to that of the recommendations by the Malimath committee with respect to Plea Bargaining.
- Whereas, ruling in favour of Plea Bargaining, a Division bench of the High Court of Gujarat in the case of State of Gujarat Vs. Natwar Harchandji Thakorobserved that the very object of the law is to provide easy and cheap resolution of disputes and provide speedy justice, including the trial of criminal cases. The Court opined that although until now, as a part of colonial legacy, Plea Bargaining has not been recognized so far in our System and Criminal jurisprudence, however, keeping in mind the huge arrears and long time spent in trials as well as the resultant hardships to parties, particularly, the Accused and the Victims of the crimes, the benefit of Plea Bargaining only acts as an alternative method to deal with the dispute or the offence in question which requires serious consideration, and the same is not available to a repeat offender or habitual offender. In furtherance, the Hon’ble High Court also emphasized on the following advantages of Plea Bargaining:
- The disposal of cases by method of Plea Bargaining is an alternative method to deal with the huge arrears of criminal cases
- It is really a measure and redressal, as the same has been brought on statute which shall also add a new dimension in the realm of judicial reform
- To redress the delay in the disposal of criminal trials and appeals as also to alleviate the suffering of Under trial prisoners As well as the dependents And keeping in mind the real purpose of victimology.
Later on, based on the recommendation of the Malimath Committee, the Law Commission of India through its 142nd Report published in 1991 emphasized on the of Plea Bargaining and subsequently in its 177th report in 2001. Thus, through the 2006 Amendment, the Chapter XXI-A was introduced in the Code, containing provisions specific to Plea Bargaining.
- State of U.P. Vs. Chandrika [AIR 2000 SC 164]
- State of Gujarat Vs. Natwar Harchandji Thakor [(2005) 1 GLR 709]
- The Code of Criminal Procedure – by Ratanlal & Dhirajlal (21st Edition)
AIR 2000 SC 164
(2005) 1 GLR 709