The Three Types of Plea Bargaining


The word ‘plea’ literally means, to appeal or request, and the word ‘bargain’ refers to negotiating and coming to an agreement. ‘Plea bargaining’ is a formal term used in law, to describe the process of negotiation that is carried out between the defendant who is guilty for sure, and the prosecutor, to find a common ground, where both the parties get something they want. It is done to create a win-win situation for both sides. A case in which, the defendant has committed more than one offence, he can plead to reduce the duration of the sentence by confessing to the less serious one. He can also plead for a specific sentence to be imposed on him, or to drop some charges against him. The prosecutor can consider these pleas, as long as the defendant is being convicted, or the plaintiff is getting something in return. Plea bargaining leads to closure of criminal cases, without going to trial. It can be applied to cases that have punishments up to a period of seven years. But plea bargaining is not applied to cases in which the crimes are committed against women and children under fourteen years. Now let us get to know about the Three types of plea bargains mentioned below:

Charge bargain-  this is the most common type of bargaining, in which the defendant can confess to a less serious offence among other offences, in case he has committed more than one, so that the other serious charges against him are dropped. For example, if the defendant is charged for committing both robbery and trespass to a property, and if he confesses to having committed a trespass, then the charges for robbery are dropped. Hence his sentence will also be a shorter one. Another example in which, a man charged with murder, confesses to manslaughter, and he is punished with a lesser sentence. This is because manslaughter does not include an intent or motive to kill, so it carries a lesser sentence.

In cases, where the defendant is charged with multiple offences, and he/she confesses to any one of those, then the prosecutor may please to dismiss one or more charges (counts) against him/her. This is known as Count bargaining, which is not based on the degree of seriousness of the multiple offences, unlike Charge bargaining.

Sentence bargain- in this type of negotiation, the defendant admits that he has committed the crime, before going to trial, so that, both the parties decide on a favourable sentence to be awarded, which would otherwise have been longer and even brutal. For instance, if a robber confesses to a robbery, before going to trial, then he would receive a lesser sentence or a less harsh punishment.

Fact bargain- it is a type of plea bargain, in which the prosecutor might agree to conceal some facts regarding the crime, which if disclosed, might lead to a worse sentence or punishment for the defendant. For instance, we know that the sentence for dealing with drugs can vary with the quantity of the drug that is in possession. So if a person is caught with five kilograms of cocaine, the amount which can trigger a very long sentence, then he can plead guilty of trafficking drugs. In exchange for which the prosecutor might not disclose the amount, or just state a lesser quantity in the court, to lessen the sentence, just for humanity’s sake. Most of the judges do not prefer this bargaining style due to ethical reasons.


Bordenkircher vs. Hayes1

The defendant was accused of forgery by which he received $88.30 through a cheque. This offence could put him through a jail time of two to ten years. During the plea negotiation, the defendant was offered a five-year sentence, in return for his confession to the offence. The defendant had also committed two prior offences. The prosecutor informed that if he does not plead guilty, then the case would go to trial. But the Hayes, the defendant did not plead guilty and consequently, he was found guilty and, sentenced to a lifetime in prison. So Hayes petitioned for the writ of Habeas Corpus and the prosecutor’s actions were found revengeful.  The court held that the prosecutor had violated the rules which “protected defendants from the vindictive exercise of a prosecutor’s discretion,” and thus, reduced Hayes’ sentence. This case concluded that even though the prosecutor is supposed to persuade the defendant to exercise his right to plead guilty for a lesser sentence, it is at the defendant’s disposal if he agrees to it or not. And in the case of non-agreement to plead guilty, the prosecutor has no right to act vindictively and punish the defendant with a harsher sentence.

Brady vs. the United States2

The defendant was charged with kidnapping of a person, who died in his captivity. The defendant was under the possibility of being punished with the death penalty. He had pled not guilty. But when he came to know that his accomplice was going to testify against him, he changed his statement to being ‘guilty’. The trial judge asked him twice if he was sure of his plea and he agreed. So, Brady, the defendant was sentenced to 50 years of jail time, which was again reduced to 30. But after 8 years of this conviction, Brady again claimed that his plea was not made voluntarily, but out of fear for the death penalty. He asked for his release, but the court denied his request. The court then concluded from this case that, when a culprit has made a plea with all intelligence, being aware of all the circumstances and has agreed to face them, with complete assurance, then he/she cannot withdraw the plea later.


The concept of plea bargaining has been introduced in almost all legal systems, to boost up the speed of case hearings and trials, make them less cumbersome and time-consuming. It proves to be favourable to both the defendant and the plaintiff’s side and sometimes, only for the defendant. This concept makes the punishments for all sorts of crimes, more lenient, which has been a hot topic of debate throughout the world, for moral and ethical contradictions. Anyway, India has also recently welcomed this concept and is still trying to evolve with it. Plea bargaining is also a boon for the poor people who cannot afford the expensive court proceedings throughout the trials. Every concept has its pros and cons and ultimately, it is at the individual country’s disposal, if it wants to incorporate it.


2 Brady v. United States – Case Brief for Law Students | Casebriefs

This article is authored by Shalini Koppula, First-Year, BBA. LL.B, student at Xavier Law School, Xavier University Bhubaneswar.

Also Read – Plea Bargaining in the Indian Criminal Justice System.

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