Sat | Dec 4, 2021

Are plea bargains really just?

Published:Thursday | May 18, 2017 | 12:00 AM


Fools rush in where angels fear to tread, it is said. Just sometimes, though, the issues may not disturb angels enough for them to tread, but a concerned, though unlearned person such as I dare to walk or rush in.

I have seen plea bargaining in movies and have read bits and pieces about how it operates in other countries. Now I hear it is being considered for Jamaica, and I have serious problems with it. As I tell my students, when you are ignorant, don't pontificate, just ask questions.

So then, let me ask my learned friends in law a few questions. How just really is plea bargaining as part of the judicial process? Is it practically/legally superior to encouraging fabrication or exaggeration of evidence? Is it not tantamount to bribing a 'small-fry' criminal to nab a 'big-fish' alleged lawbreaker?

Is the lighter sentence promised to the small fry that person's commensurate desserts (in light of the original sentence being served) and, if so, what would that offer say about the justice of the original sentence?

OK, I know that a plea bargain can be offered before trial begins, and so an accused person is 'encouraged' (read: bribed) with a plea bargain to plead guilty to a lesser offence. But is there really enough evidence to show probable cause regarding a more serious offence or to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt regarding that more serious offence?

To be sure, plea bargains can save time in court, reduce case backlog, and increase conviction rates for prosecutors, but is any one of these a reason with probative value within the judicial process or simply an expedient?

One online site on this topic, while offering benefits of plea bargaining, says, "... Plea agreements usually give defendants less punishment than they would receive if they were found guilty of all charges after a full trial ... ." (

This point hints at the potential injustice of the practice, and on this I rest my case.