The concept of ‘plea bargaining’ was introduced through a criminal amendment act passed in year 2005. Through this amendment act it was added in the chapter XXI of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. This concept has been derived from the principle of ‘Nalo Contendere’ which means that I do not wish to contend. Thus it has been interpreted as a doctrine of implied confession of guilt made by the convict before the honourable court in order to reduce the punishment for committing the crime.
As per Section 265-A of the Code Of Criminal Procedure, 1973 this principle is available in all the criminal cases whose punishment is less than 7 years and not for any serious crime especially related to children below the age of 14 or women.
This concept was not used in judiciary earlier. But once this concept came in it changed the way criminal procedures are carried out in the country. This concept although did not help to solve all the issues our judicial system is facing but has helped to smoothen the process. It is a kind of shortcut which can be used to solve the cases faster and increase conviction. That is the reason it is disputed concept because some people accept it while others reject it. But yet we all know very well that law is not a panacea and it cannot solve all the problems hence such solutions always help to improve our judicial system.
HOW IS THE TRIAL CONDUCTED?
According to the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 criminal trials are of three types based on their severity and punishment. First are warrant trials in which the crimes are very serious hence the punishment in these types of cases is more than 7 years. Second are summon trials which are comparatively less serious crimes and hence their punishment is not more than 2 years. Third are summary trials which are petty criminal offences for which maximum punishment can be for 6 months.
If an accused commits a criminal offence which is of the first type or second type then he is charged under criminal trial which begins with:
- Filing a First information report- FIR is filed under Section 154 of the Cr.P.C.
- Investigation- After the FIR is filed the next step is an investigation by the investigating officer. After collecting all the proofs and taking all the statements, the conclusion is prepared by him that is submitted to the magistrate.
- Filing charges- If after the conclusion is submitted and it is witnessed that the accused may be guilty of some offence then the court will set up charges against the accused based on his crime. In warrant cases, the charges framed should be in writing.
- Plea of guilty- As per section 241 of the Cr.P.C, after all the charges are framed by the court the accused is given an opportunity to either plead guilty or not guilty. This option is given to the accused whose crime is not very serious that if proved will be punished with life imprisonment or the death penalty or even imprisonment for more than 7 years. It is done in order to finish the case then and there as the accused pleads guilty and also it may help the accused to reduce his punishment.
HOW THE ACCUSED PLEAS GUILTY OR NOT GUILTY?
1. When the accused appears for the first time?
When the accused enters, his name will be called out loud and if he is without any lawyer his charges will be read out loud. He will be asked whether he pleads guilty or not guilty. If the accused is represented by the lawyer then he is the one who pleads.
2. What does the accused plead?
Accused is asked to either plead guilty or not guilty. But if he feels that he is not ready to answer for the same then he would be remanded without any pleading. He will be given the time of 2 weeks to discuss with his lawyer what he should plead.
3. What happens if the accused pleads ‘GUILTY’?
If the accused pleads guilty in the court of law that means he is accepting all the charges framed against him by the court. The court then simply decides what punishment will be given to the accused. It would depend on the seriousness of the crime that the judge may pronounce the judgement then and there and dispose of the case or he may decide the next date when he would pronounce the judgement.
4. What would happen if the accused wishes to change his plea to not guilty?
The accused is allowed to change his plea till the time the judge does not give the punishment. But he needs to prove that there existed some exceptional circumstances for the previous plea and hence they should accept the current one.
5. What would happen if accused pleads ‘NOT GUILTY’?
If the accused pleads not guilty this means that he is not accepting the charges which are framed against him and thus the prosecution must try to prove the offence otherwise. If the accused is charged with the crime which is of category 3 that is the offences that are punishable for 2 years of imprisonment or more, then he can choose to be judged by the jury or the judge already presiding.
After this, a date is decided by the court when the rest of the case will be reviewed and the prosecution will try to prove him guilty.
- Prosecution evidence- Once the accused pleads not guilty the prosecution will produce the evidence to prove the guilt. They need to bring witness’ to favour them. This process is called ‘examination chief’
- Statement of accused- The accused is given a chance to explain the situation according to him. This statement cannot be used as evidence but can be shown in the court of law.
- Judgement is released- Once both the parties are given full opportunity to prove their sides the judge makes a fair statement and if he feels the accused is guilty he is given punishment and if he feels that he is not guilty he is acquitted.
WHAT WOULD HAPPEN IF ACCUSED PLEAD NOT GUILTY EVEN WHEN GUILTY
As per laws in India, every accused is innocent until and unless he is proven guilty by the court. So it is a fact that the onus to prove guilt lies on the victim. So to plead guilty or not guilty should be a well-informed decision made by the accused after a detailed discussion with his lawyer. There are many accused who do believe that they are responsible for the criminal offence but they choose to plead not guilty. They leave it on the prosecution to prove him guilty.
This decision is taken for the reason that the defence lawyer would have plenty of time to understand the case. As well as to prepare for all the defences that he could, in order to defend the accused. He will also have sufficient time to break all the evidence produced by the prosecution and prove that they are weak and his defendant is not responsible for any cause.
While it does not really affect the final judgement even if later on it is found that the accused is guilty and he pleads not guilty. This does not really increase his punishment.
From all the facts mentioned above it has been analysed that there are certain critical points of this principle.
Firstly, giving an accused the chance to surrender and plead guilty was a principle added with good intentions that if he pleads guilty his punishment can be reduced as he has helped the judiciary to solve the case faster. But the criminals who do actually commit crime plead not guilty and test the patience of judiciary to try to prove them guilty.
Also Read – Can Accused Argue His Own Case Before The Court?
The judicial system in India follows the rule that the victim needs to prove the guilt of the accused whereas this is wrong because in this process the sufferer has to suffer more by trying to prove that he suffered. Not only that the accused is well aware of the fact that if he pleads not guilty he is not going to suffer any consequences rather it would help him to save himself. As the prosecution would take a long time to prove his guilt and by that time his lawyer is going to quash all the evidence. The long courtroom proceedings will ensure him that he is not going to jail any sooner thus he is free. While on the other side these long courtroom proceedings are going to trouble other parties who may themselves leave the hope to succeed after such long time, going through all the troubles and after spending their lifetime savings. This system is defaulting at the point that it not only causes trouble to the judicial system but also to the victim because the accused have no fear to plead not guilty.
After this discussion, we may conclude that if our judicial system works in a manner to overcome its defaults they should make sure that their solutions are waterproof and there is no loose end in it. If pleading guilty at the beginning of the case does help in solving the matter faster, they should also add the clauses which fear the accused to violate them. For example, if a guilty person pleads not guilty and the prosecution succeeds in the case then additional punishment should be given to him for lying.
Sugandha Nayak, India: Plea Bargaining: An Overview, MONDAQ (November 5, 2013) https://www.mondaq.com/india/trials-appeals-compensation/273094/plea-bargaining-an-overview#:~:text=As%20Per%20Section%20265%2DA,term%20exceeding%20to%20seven%20years.
 Rebecca Furtado, All about various stages of criminal trail in India, iPleaders (February 13, 2017) https://blog.ipleaders.in/all-about-the-various-stages-of-criminal-trial-in-india/#:~:text=The%20procedure%20includes%20the%20manner,trial%20by%20principles%20of%20natural
 The Plea, Victims information( October 15, 2019) http://www.victimsinfo.govt.nz/the-court-process/how-it-works/the-plea/
 Pleading not guilty even when guilty,HG.org Legal Resource https://www.hg.org/legal-articles/pleading-not-guilty-even-when-guilty-40222
 D. Brereton & J.Casper, Does It Pay to Plead Guilty? Differential Sentencing and the Functioning of Criminal Courts. Law & Society Review (1981) 16(1), 45-70. doi:10.2307/3053549
This Article Written by Rupinder Kaur, Student of Symbiosis Law School, Noida.