PLEA BARGAINING UNDER INDIAN LEGAL SYSTEM

INTRODUCTION

Delays that result in the miscarriage of justice are a fundamental flaw in the legal system. Plea bargaining is indeed one of the approaches used in the criminal justice process to avoid delays and facilitate a quick resolution. Black’s law dictionary defines it as “Plea-bargaining is the process whereby the accused and the prosecutor in a criminal trail workout a mutually satisfactory disposition of the case subject the court approval. It usually involves the defendants pleading guilty to lesser offense as to only one of some courts of a multi-count indictment in return for a lighter sentence than that possible for the graver charge”.

Plea bargaining involves the preparation of a resolution under the observation of the court, which becomes effective only after approval and the issuance of an order by the court. It’s a criminal procedure tool that lowers prosecution expenses and frees the prosecutor’s time to focus on more important cases.[1]

POSITION OF PLEA BARGAINING UNDER US LAW

The killing of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1969 was the very first time this notion, known as “plea bargaining,” was used in the American criminal court system. To escape prosecution, alleged Martin Luther King Jr. killer, James Earl Ray, agreed to plead guilty to his crime. Despite plea bargaining was known before 1970, it was not used consistently in the criminal justice process. In Brady v. United States,[2] the United States Supreme Court agreed to allow offenders to plea bargain. In this case, the Supreme Court held that “merely because the agreement was entered into out of fear that the trial might result in a death sentence, would not illegitimate a bargained plea of guilty”. Plea bargaining has become an important aspect of the criminal system in the US, with the overwhelming bulk of criminal cases handled through a plea agreement instead of a jury trial.

IMPLEMENTATION IN INDIA

Until recently, there was no established procedure for plea bargaining in India, where the legal system is based on English common law. The warrantless surveillance of alleged perpetrators in detention centers as a result of judicial procedures in resolving criminal cases has been condemned. In its 142nd report, the law commission emphasized the benefits of plea bargaining as well as the necessity to encourage the rapid resolution of cases involving the suspect’s explicit admission of guilt.[3] The findings of the Malimath Committee suggested that the commission’s report be executed. Plea Bargaining is a notion that has sparked a lot of discussion. It is not accepted by our criminal justice system, according to critics, and it is also contrary to public policy. The Supreme Court’s stance on the matter is not encouraging.

In Murlidhar Meghraj Loya v. State of Maharashtra,[4] it was observed by the Hon’ble Supreme court that: “In civil cases we find compromises actually encouraged as amore adequate method of setting disputes between individuals than an actual trial. However, if the dispute discovers itself in the field of criminal law, Law Enforcement deserted the idea of negotiation as unethical, or at best a necessary evil. The State can never negotiate. It must enforce the law. Therefore open methods of negotiations are impossible.”

The Supreme Court opposed the establishment of plea bargaining in the case of State of Uttar Pradesh v. Chandrika[5] and states that “It is a settled principle that on the basis of Plea Bargaining, the court cannot do away with a criminal case. The court has to decide it on its merits. If the accused confesses its guilt then suitable sentence is required to be applied. The court further held in the same case that, mere acceptance or confession of the guilt should not be a ground for reduction of sentence, or the accused can strike a deal with the court that as he has pleaded guilty the sentence has to be reduced.”

SHIFT IN JUDICIAL THINKIING

In State of Gujarat v. Natwar Harchanji Thakor,[6] the High Court’s division bench remarked on this point, saying: “The very motive of law is to provide easy, cheap and speedy justice by resolution of disputes, including the trial of criminal cases and considering the present realistic profile of the case and delay in disposal in the administration of law and justice, fundamental reforms are inevitable. There should not be anything static. It can thus be said that it is really a measure that shall add a new dimension in the sphere of judicial reforms.”

Plea bargains will give judicial reforms a whole new meaning. Parliament implemented the Plea bargaining scheme, inserting it in Chapter XXI-A Sections 265 A – 265 L, based on reports but with appropriate modifications. As a result, the Criminal Procedure Code included it in 2005.

PROS OF PLEA BARGAINING

Plea bargaining had a numerous benefits:

  • To begin with, it eliminates the ambiguity of a criminal investigation and reduces the potential of unfavorable outcomes for either party.
  • It allows for quicker case adjudication and lowers case burden.
  • It saves time and money by eliminating the need to hire a lawyer, spend the money on a defence.
  • It protects protection against unnecessarily publicity.
  • The rehabilitation and reformation will commence earlier.

BROAD FEATURES

It does not apply to offences for which the legislation now in effect provides for the capital penalty, life imprisonment, or a sentence of more than 7 years in jail. It is not applicable if the crime has a significant impact on the country’s socioeconomic situation, or if the crime was committed against a female or a children under the age of 14.[7] The guilty must deliberately submit an proposal for plea bargaining. When the court receives the claim, it must conduct an in-camera examination of the offender to determine if the request was made freely. If an agreement is achieved, the court can provide compensatory damages based on the agreement, and then hear the litigants on the sentencing matter. The court must pass down the verdict in public session, in accordance with the conditions of the previously agreed settlement and the sentence procedure, which includes victim compensation. It should be emphasized that the verdict is ultimate, and there is no option other than a plea to the State High Court.

THROWBACKS OF THE PLEA BARGAINING

In India, the following are among the key disadvantages of the Plea Bargaining concept:

  • Defendants are under a lot of scrutiny to confess to offenses they didn’t commit because of the plea bargain system.
  • The decision is determined by the bargaining abilities of the defence counsel, who has the benefit of being able to afford skilled lawyers.
  • New System encourages attorneys to exaggerate at the commencement of a case, putting a strain on caseloads.
  • The concept of plea bargaining runs counter to the laws stated goal of associating a particular action with a specified penalty.
  • The right against self-incrimination, the ability to access the evidence, and the state’s obligation to examine is guaranteed by the constitution gets disturbed.
  • The government has a history of making threats against persons who refuse to take a plea deal.

CONCLUSION

The procedure should be handled carefully in India, where ignorance and a lack of understanding of civil liberties pose challenges. The two-pronged goal of achieving verdict and minimizing pendency can be done concurrently if plea bargaining is done properly. Making judicious use of plea bargaining in the current harsh environment of criminal justice is a must.

Plea bargaining alone will not resolve the delay issue unless and until the matter of caseloads and delays is addressed holistically through the preceding ideas. Furthermore, in brief trials at lower levels where no appeal is allowed, plea bargaining is an option. Because only a small percentage of petitioners can manage to appeal, the trial level needs to be upgraded to do justice for the poor and disadvantaged.

Taking into account the overall amount of cases pending, which includes both serious and small civil and criminal matters, Plea bargaining, when combined with other strategies of reducing delays and caseloads, will be an appropriate solution for reducing the congestion in Indian courts.  

Author(s) Name: G. Bhargavi (DSNLU, Visakhapatnam)

References:

[1] Soura Subha Ghosh, ‘Plea Bargaining – An Analysis of the concept’, <http://www.legalserviceindia.com/articles/plea_bar.htm> accessed 17 August 2021

[2] [1970] 397 U.S. 742

[3] Law Commission of India, 142nd Report 1991

[4] [1976] AIR 1929 SC

[5] [2000] Cr.L.J 384 (386)

[6] [2005] Cr.L.J. 2957

[7] Criminal Procedure Code 1973, s. 265 L

Related Posts