When discussing the idea of plea bargaining, the adage “Justice delayed is justice denied” has the utmost weight. Although the quantity of court cases pending is astounding, people have come to accept it as routine. Because individuals have begun to accept this as their fate, these startling statistics are no longer shocking. Since the start of criminal law, the idea of a plea agreement has not existed. Indian legal experts and jurists took this situation into account when incorporating this idea into Indian criminal law. It is an agreement between the accused and the prosecution, as the name suggests. This idea has been adopted by the criminal justice systems of many nations.
What does Plea Bargaining mean?
Plea bargaining is a pre-trial agreement in which the accused offers to plead guilty in exchange for the prosecution making specific concessions. In exchange for the prosecution dropping more serious accusations, the defendant enters a plea agreement to a lower offense. It is not possible for all crimes; for example, one cannot use a plea deal after committing a serious crime or a crime that carries a death sentence or a life sentence.
History of Plea Bargaining
The jury system did not feel the necessity for plea bargaining because the defendants were not represented by counsel. Later, in 1960, when legal representation was permitted, plea bargaining became necessary. Although the history of American law contains the earliest indications of the concept of plea bargaining. Since the late 19th century, this idea has been in use. Judges encouraged confessions by engaging in this bartering.
India’s Plea Bargaining
Plea Bargaining is not a concept that emerged from the Indian legal system. It is a recent improvement in the Indian Criminal Justice System (ICJS). It was incorporated into the Indian Criminal Justice System after a load of pending cases on the judiciary was taken into account.
The Criminal Procedure Code and Plea Bargaining
Sections 265A through 265L of Chapter XXIA of the Criminal Procedure Code deal with plea bargaining. It was a part of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act of 2005. It allows plea discussions in certain situations:
- When the acts are not committed against women or children under the age of 14.
- when the maximum sentence is seven years in prison, and
- when the offenses have no impact on the nation’s socioeconomic situation.
The first suggestions for “plea bargaining” in the Indian Criminal Justice System were made in the Law Commission’s 154th Report. Plea Bargaining was described as an alternate strategy that ought to be used to address the massive backlog of criminal cases in Indian courts.
The NDA administration then constituted a committee to address the issue of the growing number of criminal cases, which was headed by Justice V. S. Malimath, a former Chief Justice of the Karnataka and Kerala High Courts. The Malimath Committee recommended that India put the plea bargaining system into place. According to the committee, it will facilitate a quicker resolution of criminal cases and lessen the burden on the legal system. The Malimath Committee also emphasized the effectiveness of the US system to highlight the importance of plea negotiations.
As a result, the draught Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2003 was presented to the legislature, and on July 5, 2006, it finally passed and was put into effect across India. It aimed to change the Indian Penal Code.
(i) witnessed becoming antagonistic
(iii) Combining Section 498A of the IPC (Husband or relative of the husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty) with another offense; and
(iv) Scientific expert testimony in cases involving phony money notes.
Finally, it brought the idea of plea bargaining to India by introducing Chapter XXIA Sections 265A to 265L. The following provisions were added by it:-
Anyone charged with a crime that is not punishable by death, life in prison, or a sentence of more than seven years has the option of entering into a plea agreement, according to Section 265-A (Application of Chapter). Violations may be reported to the Central Government, under Section 265 A (2) of the Code.
The violations that affect the nation’s socioeconomic position are listed in Central Government Notification No. SO1042 (II) dated 11/7/2006.
Article 265-B (Application for Plea Bargaining)
- Anyone who has been charged with a crime is eligible to apply for a plea agreement in cases that are still in progress.
- Brief information regarding the case must be included in the accused’s application for plea negotiations, which they must submit. It includes the offenses to which the case relates and must be submitted along with an affidavit signed by the accused stating that he has voluntarily applied, a plea agreement outlining the nature and severity of the punishment prescribed by law for the offense, and a statement stating that the accused has never before been found guilty of the same offense.
- The concerned public prosecutor, the case’s investigating officer, the case’s victim, and the accused will then receive notice from the court of the date set for the plea negotiation.
- When the parties attend, the court will interview the accused in secret without the other parties to the case present to ensure that the applicant has applied freely.
- Article 265-C (Guidelines for Mutually satisfactory disposition) outlines the steps the court must take to reach a mutually acceptable resolution. In a case brought based on a police report, the court must notify the public prosecutor involved, the case’s investigating officer, the victim, and the accused to attend a meeting to discuss how best to resolve the case. The Court must notify both the accused and the case’s victim in a complaint case.
- Article 265-D (Report of the mutually satisfactory disposition) This clause discusses the creation and submission of a report on a mutually satisfactory resolution.
Here, two scenarios could occur, namely
- If a suitable resolution to the issue has been reached in a conference held by section 265-C, the court is required to prepare a report detailing that resolution. It needs to be signed by everyone who attended the meeting, including the court’s presiding officer.
- The Court shall record such observation and continue by the provisions of this Code from the stage the application under sub-section (1) of section 265-B has been filed in such matter, if no such disposition has been reached.
- When a suitable resolution to the case is reached, the method to be followed is prescribed in Section 265-E (Disposal of the Case). The Court must hear from the parties regarding the severity of the punishment or the accused’s eligibility for release on probation for good behavior or after admonition after the proceedings under Section 265-D have been completed and a report has been prepared and signed by the presiding officer of the Court and parties present. The accused may be sentenced to prison or released on probation under the terms of Section 360 of the Code, the Probation of Offenders Act of 1958, or any other applicable legislative laws. When sentencing the accused, the Court may, at its discretion, impose the minimum punishment prescribed by law for the offenses committed by the accused or, in the absence of such a provision, impose a sentence equal to one-fourth of the punishment specified for the offense.
- The Court’s Pronouncement of Judgment in Terms of Mutually Satisfactory Disposition is discussed in Section 265-F (Judgment of the Court).
- No appeal may be made against such a verdict, according to Section 265-G (Finality of Judgment), although a Special Leave Petition (under Article 136) or a writ petition (under Article 226 or 227) may be submitted.
- The powers of the court during plea negotiations are covered in Section 265-H (Power of the Court in Plea Bargaining). These powers include those related to bail, criminal offense trials, and other aspects of how a case is resolved in this court under the Criminal Procedure Code.
- According to Section 265-I (The accused’s term of detention shall be set off against the sentence of imprisonment), the accused’s period of detention shall be set off against the sentence of imprisonment imposed under this chapter by Section 428 of the Criminal Procedure Code.
- The declarations or facts provided by the accused in a section 265-B application may only be utilized for the purposes listed in the chapter, according to section 265-K (Statement of the Accused to be Used).
- This chapter will not apply to any juvenile or child as specified in Section 2(k) of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000, according to Section 265-L (Non-application of the Chapter).
Kinds of Plea Negotiations
Plea bargaining typically comes in three forms, specifically:
- Sentence Negotiating: The primary goal of this form of negotiating is to obtain a lighter sentence. In a sentencing deal, the offender agrees to admit guilt to the charged offense in exchange for a lenient punishment.
- Charge negotiating: This type of plea bargaining takes place to get less serious charges. This is the most typical type of plea agreement used in criminal cases. In this case, the defendant consents to admit guilt to a lower charge in exchange for the dismissal of more serious accusations. For instance, pleading guilty to manslaughter in exchange for dismissing the murder charges
- Fact bargaining: Due to allegations that it violates the criminal justice system, this is typically not used in court. It happens when a defendant consents to admit certain facts to exclude other facts from the evidence.
Plea Negotiations and Court Decisions
- The Hon’ble Supreme Court attacked plea bargaining in Murlidhar Meghraj Loya v. State of Maharashtra and claimed that it interferes with society’s interests.
- The Supreme Court declared that plea bargaining is against public policy in the cases Kasambhai v. State of Gujarat and Kachhia Patel Shantilal Koderlal v. State of Gujarat and Anr. Additionally, it regretted the magistrate accepting the accused’s plea agreement. Additionally, the Hon’ble Court called this idea a particularly despicable practice. The Court further declared plea bargaining to be illegal and unconstitutional conduct that tends to promote corruption and collusion while tainting the pure source of justice.
- In Thippaswamy v. the State of Karnataka, the Court ruled that it would be against Article 21 of the Constitution to pressure or coerce an accused into entering a guilty plea under a promise or assurance.
- In addition, the Court said that “In such cases, the Court of appeal or revision should set aside the conviction and sentence of the accused and remand the case to the trial court so that the accused can if he so desires, defend himself against the charge and if he is found guilty, a proper sentence can be passed against him.”
- The Supreme Court derided the idea of plea bargaining and declared the practice to be illegal and unconstitutional in the State of Uttar Pradesh vs. Chandrika. Here, the Honorable Court held that the plea negotiating process could not be used as a foundation for concluding criminal matters. A merit-based decision must be made in the case. In support of this, the court ruled that if the accused admits guilt, he must receive the proper punishment stipulated by law.
- In the case of State of Gujarat v. Natwar Harchandji Thakor, the court recognized the value of plea negotiations and stated that not every “plea of guilty” is considered to be a component of the legal procedure in a criminal trial should be interpreted as a “plea bargaining” per se. It is a legal issue that must be resolved on a case-by-case basis. The court stated that the entire purpose of the law is to give easy, inexpensive, and quick justice by resolving conflicts, taking into account the dynamic character of law and society.
Reasons to oppose plea negotiations in India
- Mechanism adopted voluntarily
According to the legal clause governing plea bargaining, it is a voluntary process that is only considered when the accused chooses it voluntarily. However, the legislation is mute on the issue of whether or not the settlement achieved is at odds with the goals of the justice system.
- Participation of Police
Critics also criticized the police’s involvement in plea negotiations. Because police in India are notorious for torturing prisoners, The idea of plea bargaining is more likely to make things worse in this instance.
Additionally, the victims’ role in the plea negotiation process is undervalued. The victim’s position in this procedure would encourage corruption, which would ultimately negate the goal of the action.
- A Separate judicial body
The Plea-Bargaining provisions do not establish a separate court authority to review plea-bargaining applications. This is one of the most obvious arguments against it. The court’s in-camera questioning of the accused may cause public skepticism and mistrust of the plea-bargaining process. Any court judgment denying an application that is not kept confidential may result in bias against the applicant.
Justifications for plea negotiations in India
- Quickly Removing Cases
Because there is no chance of losing the case outright at trial, plea negotiations are advantageous for both the prosecution and the defense. Since both parties have bargaining power, it makes it easier for attorneys to represent their clients. Long-running disagreements can be settled in this way, and the court won’t have to deal with a backlog of case files. Plea bargaining also helps the courts save limited resources for the cases that need them.
- Less serious infractions on a person’s record
In a nation like India, society is essential. A person finds it extremely challenging to survive once they are stigmatized by society. Ostracism frequently follows stigmatization. Plea bargaining in this situation enables a defendant to enter a guilty or no contest plea in exchange for a decrease in the number of charges or the severity of the offenses. As a result, less serious violations are listed on an accused person’s official court records. This may work in the accused’s favor if he is ultimately found guilty.
- It keeps quiet about it
Plea bargaining is also a useful tool for preventing exposure because the longer the case drags on, the more attention the accuser receives. Plea bargaining thereby prevents such publicity by hastening the resolution of the case. renowned and common People whose livelihood depends on their standing in the community and those who wish to avoid unwarranted shame. When compared to news of a trial, the news of the plea itself may be public, but it only persists for a brief period.
- A painless strategy
India is renowned for its protracted legal dispute. Many court cases drag on for 8 to 10 years, which hurts both sides. In certain cases, the accused was sentenced to longer time in prison than the maximum allowed by law. Such incidents demonstrate a serious violation of their human rights. A person can enter a guilty plea through plea negotiating without retaining legal counsel. However, if they waited to go to trial, they would have to look for and engage a lawyer, as well as invest time in working with the attorney to prepare for trial and pay the attorney. The idea of a plea bargain protects these people’s interests by sparing them the difficulties they experience when the case is still pending.
How to manage plea negotiations?
There is no exact science or quantitative technique to become adept at plea bargaining. Experience is the only way to become an expert, and the only way to gain experience is to do the thing. One needs to be skilled at negotiating and communicating to become a master of plea bargaining. Plea Bargaining ultimately comes down to negotiating. How well you negotiate on your client’s behalf is key. The better outcomes you get for your client, the better bargainer you are. Knowing the facts and the pertinent laws is necessary to handle plea negotiations. Your ability to persuade people is one way that you stand out. Every case in the legal field presents a fresh opportunity to learn because cases are unique in and of themselves. You will get more skilled at plea negotiating as you negotiate more cases. In addition to these abilities, the ability to reason logically and analytically is particularly important for plea bargaining because it is exceedingly difficult to refute a claim supported by solid reasoning. As a result, having a combination of all these abilities makes you an expert at plea negotiations.
Plea bargaining is not altogether a foreign concept in India. It was acknowledged when India received its constitution in 1950. The Indian Constitution’s Article 20(3) forbids self-incrimination. People claim that plea bargaining violates the aforementioned article. However, as time went on and the burden on the courts increased, the Indian court realized the importance of plea bargaining for the country’s judicial system. It can be difficult to embrace change at first, but society and our legal system both need to develop. Everything has benefits and drawbacks, and both must be considered in order to draw a wise judgment. In any event, it would not be fair to reject anything solely because of its drawbacks. It is inappropriate to expect the notion of plea bargaining to be perfect in India because it is still in its infancy. Only conversation, argument, and debate can make it better.
- Encyclopedia Britannica．[Online][Cited: 21 September 2022．]https://www.britannica.com/topic/plea-bargaining．
- Plea Bargaining in Indian Legal System．[Online][Cited: 21 September 2022．]http://www.legalservicesindia.com/article/1836/Plea-Bargaining-in-Indian-Legal-System.html．
- Tripaksha Litigation．[Online][Cited: 21 September 2022．]https://tripakshalitigation.com/concept-of-plea-bargaining/．
- Murlidhar Meghraj Loya v. State of Maharashtra, AIR 1976 SC 1929
- Kasambhai v. State of Gujarat (1980) AIR 854
- Thippaswamy v. the State of Karnataka,  1 SCC 194
- State of Uttar Pradesh vs. Chandrika 2000 Cr.L.J. 384(386).
- State of Gujarat v. Natwar Harchandji Thakor (2005) 1 GLR 708
This article is written by Kanika Arora, from Delhi Metropolitan Education (Affiliated to GGSIPU).