Plea bargain process is one of the most overlooked concept in the criminal justice system.
The concept of plea bargain can be traced backwardly to the 1970s, when the concept, became dominant in the United States. It was practiced in the various US Courts.
As noted by wiki, vast majority of US criminal cases, were and are settled by plea Bargain instead of jury trial.
The concept of Plea Bargain has rapidly spread to all parts of the world, including Nigeria, although with fewer cases settled by plea Bargain compared to the US stats.
What is Plea Bargain?
In criminal trial, the law allows for negotiation between the accused person and the State(prosecution) on how best to determine the charge against the accused person.
Just like commercial negotiation, the accused person is expected to concede to some facts, in exchange for leniency from the prosecution.This is the whole idea of Plea bargain.
Plea bargain is an agreement between the accused person and the prosecution in a criminal trial, wherein the crime alleged is settled against the accused person in exchange for concession
In the case of Nwude v FRN(2016) 5 NWLR(Pt.1506) p.471, the court defined plea bargain as a negotiated agreement, between a prosecutor and a criminal Defendant, whereby the Defendant pleads guilty to a lesser offence or to one multiple charges in exchange for some concession by the prosecution.
In other words, Plea bargain is a plea arrangement between the prosecutor and the Defendant, whereby the Defendant pleads guilty to crime alleged or lesser crime, in exchange for lenient sentence. This is why, Plea Bargain is also referred to as “plea agreement” or “plea deal”.
Under Nigerian criminal jurisprudence, Although, the terms of the agreement are usually reached between the prosecutor and the Defendant, the victim of the crime or the Relatives of the victim of the crime and the court, equally has roles to play in plea bargain.
Common Types of Plea Bargain
Charge Plea Bargain
In Charge plea bargain, an accused person agree with the prosecutor, to plead guilty to a lesser charge than the initial charge. The accused person will now be convicted on the lesser charge.
In Charge Bargain, the accused person may also plead guilty to part of the charge and agree to forfeit properties to the State(see Section 76 of ACJL)
Count Plea Bargain
Where there are many counts in a charge, an accused person may on agreement with the prosecution, plead guilty to some counts, or to a count in the charge. The implication is that the other counts will be waived.
Sentence plea Bargain.
In this type of plea Bargain, the accused person will plead guilty to the offence charged, in exchange for reduced sentence or minimal terms.
In other words, the accused person may agree on the terms or sentence to be imposed on him if he pleads guilty to the Charge. The agreement may also include restitution where necessary.
Parties to Plea Bargain.
There are basically, four parties in a Plea Bargain and they are:
- The Prosecution.
- The accused person.
- The court.
- The victim of the Crime or the Relative of the Victim of the crime(Nominal complainant).
Each of this parties has a role to play to ensure that the plea agreement is reached. Without any of the parties, it may be effort in futility.
Is Plea Bargain Provided under Nigerian Law?
The concept of plea bargain under Nigerian law, is provided under: The Criminal Code Act, The Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) Act, The Administration of Criminal justice Act, The Administration of Criminal justice Law of Lagos State etc .
Section 180(1) of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (Establishment) Act 2004 states that ‘Subject to the provisions of Section 174 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 which relates to the power of the Attorney General of the Federation to institute; continue or discontinue criminal proceedings against any persons in any court of law, the Commission may compound any offence punishable under this Act by accepting such sums of money as it thinks fit, not exceeding the amount of the maximum fine to which that person would be liable if he had been convicted of that offence.
Section 14(2) of the Criminal Procedure Act 1990 states that
‘when more charges than one are made against a person, and a conviction has been had on one or more of them, the prosecutor may, with the consent of the court, withdraw the remaining charge or charges or the court, of its own motion, may stay the trial of such charge or charges’.
Accordingly, section 76 of the Administration of Criminal justice Law of Lagos State provides:
“Notwithstanding anything in this Law or any other law, the Attorney-General of the State shall have power to consider and accept a plea bargain from a person charged with any offence where the Attorney- General is of the view that the acceptance of such plea bargain is in the public interest, the interest of justice and the need to prevent abuse of legal process”
Section 270(1) of the Administration of Justice Act 2015 provides that:
“The prosecution may (a) receive and consider a plea bargain from a Defendant charged with an offence either directly from the Defendant or on his behalf”
(b) offer a plea bargain to a Defendant charged with an offence”
Section 270(2) of ACJA supra says, the prosecution may only enter into a plea Bargain, with the consent of the victim of the crime, or with the relative of the victim or his representative.
The stage when plea bargain may be entered is after the Prosecution’s evidence, before the evidence of the Defendant.
Procedure for Plea Bargain.
a. Application or offer for plea Bargain.
A thoughtful study of Section 270 of the Administration of Criminal justice Act 2015, will reveal that the first step towards plea deal, is an application for plea deal made by the accused person.
An offer for plea deal can also be made by the Prosecution to the accused person. Though such offer is predicated on some condition which includes:
a. That the evidence of the prosecution is insufficient to prove the charge beyond reasonable doubt.
b. That the Defendant has agreed to return the proceeds of the crime or make restitution to the victim or to his representative, or
c. That the Defendant in a case of conspiracy has fully co-operated with the investigation and prosecution of the case by providing relevant information for the prosecution of the offenders.
b. Negotiation for plea Agreement.
After an offer or application for plea deal has been made, negotiation starts between the prosecutor and the accused person. In Negotiation, parties may agree on the nature of charges to be pressed, and the sentence to be imposed.
Parties in plea bargain, may also make provisions for restitution or compensations where necessary.
Whatever agreement reached, shall be reduced into writing and shall state the fact that the Defendant was informed of his right to remain silence and he chose to make the Statement in the agreement.
The agreement shall also be signed by the prosecution, the Defendant, and interpreters where necessary. See section 270(7) of the Administration of Criminal justice Act 2015.
c. The prosecution informs the court about the plea Bargain.
The court is not made to participate in the agreement. Where the agreement has been reached, the prosecution will inform the court that the parties have reached agreement and the court will enquire from the Defendant, the terms of the Agreement. See Section 8 and 9 of the Administration of Criminal justice Act supra.
d. The Court verifies from the Defendant.
The court will ascertain from the Defendant whether he truly participated in the bargain and the agreement he reached with the Prosecution. The essence is to be sure, that the terms where not impossed on the accused person.
c. The court can adopt the terms of the plea deal as it’s judgement. The court can as well reject the deal under the ACJL of Lagos State if he dissatisfied with the outcome of the bargain.
Advantages of Plea Bargain.
- Plea Bargain saves the prosecutor the stress of too much evaluation of cases and laws.
- It equally enable the prosecutor to concentrate on other tasks in the office.
- Above all, it saves cost. Litigation is not only costly to the accused person, the prosecutor also spends much resources to prosecute suspects.
For Accused person:
- Plea bargain gives the accused person better platform to determine the sentence to be imposed on him
- Plea bargain saves time and resources.
- Plea bargain is less stressful than litigation.
- It reduces the workload on court.
- It aids quick dispensation of justice
For victims or Nominal complainant
- plea bargain saves cost of litigation
- It aids restorative justice (compensation).
The whole idea of Plea Bargain under Nigerian Law, is to ensure quick dispensation of justice and also to give room for restorative justice.
In most criminal trial, it is now obvious that it ends most time with punitive justice. But with the invention of plea bargain, victims of crime can be compensated.
This is why, we need to embrace plea bargain more, it will equally decongest the court system and promote the course of justice.