In Canada or elsewhere, most criminal prosecutions are settled by plea bargaining before trial. Even most successful criminal cases come to a climax not with the jury but with a plea bargain in Canada.
So what is a plea bargain?
Think of plea bargain as the lubricant that keeps the criminal justice system operative. It is the primary tool through which judges, defence lawyers, and prosecutors work together toward their goals.
Thus, Plea bargaining benefits both the defence and the prosecution because there is no likeliness of complete loss at trial. If the evidence for or against the defendant is doubtful, a plea bargain opens feasible ways for the lawyers.
While facing criminal charges, you may consider a plea bargain instead of risking more severe fines. But is a plea bargain a conviction? This article will discuss plea bargain basics, its benefits, and more.
Plea Bargain Definition
A plea bargain is an agreement between a crown prosecutor and a person charged with an offence, called a defendant. The defendant agrees to confess some or all the charges against them in the agreement.
The prosecutor, in exchange, makes some concessions. It helps the prosecutors to focus on their resources and time on other cases. This decreases the number of trials that judges have to supervise.
However, the defendants usually negotiate through their counsel. The defendant and the prosecutor often negotiate, considering the facts upon which a guilty plea will be made.
The prosecutor mainly decides to minimize a defendant’s penalty through plea bargains. They intend to move cases through the justice system as efficiently as possible. With the early plea bargain, the prosecution can avoid lengthy trials.
What are the different categories of plea bargains?
The three most common types of plea bargains are;
- Charge bargaining
- Fact bargaining
- Sentence bargaining
In charge bargaining, a defendant agrees to confess to a murder charge. So, the court does not charge the defendant with murder.
Sentence bargaining is quite similar to charge bargaining. In sentence bargaining, the defendant agrees to confess so that the court gives a lower sentence.
Fact bargaining is a rare type of plea bargaining. The defendant agrees to plead guilty to specific facts with a fact bargain. In exchange, the prosecution does not announce other facts as evidence.
Why is Plea Bargain Canada Necessary?
When each charge goes to trial, the backlog would be insoluble. Due to this, the essential trials may take months and even years to proceed or conclude. If every criminal offender claims a full jury trial, the criminal justice system will be shut down.
There are insufficient judges, clerks, and other personnel to coordinate the complete trial process in Canada and elsewhere. So, judges and prosecutors always look for ways to resolve cases as fast and efficiently as possible.
A plea bargain acts as a feasible solution in this case. Prosecutors can avoid labour-intensive, time-consuming, and expensive trials which carry no assurance of success. By using plea bargaining logically, prosecutors can give specific punishments to criminals.
On the other hand, defence lawyers are also benefitted from plea-bargained cases. They can increase their profit and efficiency by not investing much time in the case. The plea bargain also brings benefits to judges.
It allows judges to supervise efficient trials and minimize the risk of an overturned appeal. It removes the burden of defining guilt because they share the responsibility with the attorney who bargained.
When Are Plea Bargains Usually Offered?
Plea bargains usually take place before a criminal trial is scheduled. It happens to excuse witnesses from testifying in court. However, plea bargains can conduct anytime from when an accused person is charged till the end of the trial.
Mainly, it occurs during a trial. This can also happen during the appeals process if any critical information comes to light. So, the information can be used on behalf of the plea-bargained party.
Pros and Cons of Plea Bargaining
Plea bargaining offers some sense of security to the defendant. Criminal defendants accept plea bargains to;
- Negotiate terms of sentencing
- Avoid more severe charges
- Get lesser sentence
- Avoid the unnecessary hassle of trials
Plea bargaining is also time-saving for the defendants, most notably for less severe charges. In such cases, they often face restrictions while a case is pending. They need to appear to the court repeatedly, which takes time from their daily lives.
Besides, the stress of unsolved cases can tire anyone out. With a guilty plea, they can move on in their life. However, a plea bargain can be inconvenient for the defendant. The most important among them is lost opportunity.
Anyone who takes a plea bargain ignores a lot of potential doubts to evidence. It eliminates the chances of a “not guilty” verdict. In every plea bargain, the defendant has to plea “guilty” to a criminal charge. It adds to their permanent criminal record.
When a defendant accepts a plea agreement, s/he usually grants the right to appeal the conviction. Plea bargain appeals are much slighter than guilty verdict appeals at trials. These are often confined to instances of prosecution misconduct.
How Can A Lawyer Help with a Plea Bargain?
Before entering a plea agreement, it is essential to consult with a criminal defence lawyer. A lawyer can help you understand what to do in your best interest. Besides, they will help you know how to negotiate a plea bargain.
Moreover, the lawyer can understand the potential sentence you may be facing. They can negotiate with the prosecutors to get the best deals. Also, the lawyer will tell you other ways to defend your case.
While negotiating a plea bargain in Canada, the prosecution will make an offer. The prosecutor will make you believe that it works in your best interest so that you accept the deal. Thus, they can avoid additional charges or lengthy sentences.
In such cases, make sure to consult an experienced lawyer. The lawyer can make a counteroffer and negotiate until reaching an agreement. So while facing criminal charges, make sure to have an experienced attorney by your side.