Black’s law dictionary defines Plea Bargain as the “process whereby the accused and the prosecutor in a criminal case work out a mutually satisfactory disposition of the case subject to court approved”.
Plea bargaining results in a plea agreement between the prosecutor, the lawyer who leads the case against a defendant (the accused).
In this agreement, the defendant agrees to plead guilty without a trial and in return, the prosecutor agrees to dismiss certain charges or make favourable sentence recommendations to the court.
The key operating words are “agreement” and “approval” of the court. Agreement must be between the prosecuting counsel (lawyer for the government or state) and the defense counsel (lawyer standing for the accused). And whatever agreement is reached must receive the approval of the court.
However, plea bargaining is never automatic and may not be implemented arbitrarily. In Nigeria, for example, the Attorney General of the Federation should be the head of prosecution. He is supposed to give his approval to any plea bargaining agreement before such an agreement could be presented to the Presiding Judge.
Plea bargain some certain limitations (demerits) which includes:
Outright Abuse: Today plea bargain is used more frequently than before and it has started to be abused. For example, a situation in which an accused person is charged with embezzling public fund to the tune of $10 million, he agrees to return the sum of $5 million in a plea bargain. This is indeed wrong and should be corrected or rejected outright.
Embezzlement of Public Fund: Many people or officials in government, even, as custodian of public funds may begin to embezzle public funds with impunity.
Punishment of Offenders: Punishment of offenders in the state is the sole function of the judiciary and so due process of law should take the centre stage in judging cases with criminal tendencies.
In plea bargaining, a criminal case could be concluded without a trial and this is a minus for an institution seen as the last hope of the people against the wrongful use of power by an unpopular government.
Limitation to the application of the rule of law: This process is a limitation to the application of the rule of law. The law is supposed to be supreme over everybody irrespective of one’s political or economic status. What applies to the rich should also apply to the poor. The law is not a respecter of any person.
Zeal for Hard Work will be Jettisoned: This is because a short-cut to money making has been discovered.