Why Are There Plea Bargains?

The vast majority of criminal cases in New Jersey and elsewhere are disposed of via plea bargains. From the prosecution viewpoint, a plea bargain assures the State of a conviction without the necessity of a time consuming and expensive trial, and allows for allocation of scarce resources. A plea agreement requiring a defendant’s cooperation with the State is often the vehicle by which further prosecutions are fueled. From the defendant’s vantage point, a plea bargain saves the expense of trial and allows for an opportunity to reduce considerably or eliminate the possibility of incarceration. As the New Jersey Supreme Court has stated,

Plea bargaining has become firmly institutionalized in this State as a legitimate respectable and pragmatic tool in the efficient and fair administration of criminal justice. Courts across the country have adopted plea bargaining as an appropriate accommodation of the conflicting interests of society and persons accused of crime and as a needed response to an ever-burgeoning case load.

State v. Taylor, 80 N.J. 353, 360-361 (1979).

These are, however, some cases in which a plea bargain will not prevail. A prosecutor may be unwilling to plea bargain in a particular case, due to the seriousness or notoriety of the alleged crime or criminal. Other situations may compel the prosecutor to demand a plea which is certain to be unpalatable to the defense. On the other hand, a defendant to plead guilty, he or she must actually be guilty of the crime. Therefore, a defendant who believes that he or she is totally innocent cannot plead guilty.

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