Understanding the Concept of ‘Plea Bargaining’ under Indian Criminal Laws

Under the newly-introduced provisions, an accused is allowed to file an application for plea bargaining in the court in which the offence is pending for trial. Such an application must contain a brief description of the case including the offence to which the case relates. The application is to be supported by an affidavit sworn by the accused, stating that the application has been made voluntarily after understanding the nature and extent of the punishment. He must also state that he has not previously been convicted for the same offence.

When such an application is made, the court gives notice to the Public Prosecutor or the complainant, as the case may be. Thereafter, the court examines the accused in camera, when the other party is not present – to satisfy itself that the application was filed voluntarily.

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If the court is satisfied that the application was filed voluntarily, it must give time to the accused and the Public Prosecutor (or the complainant, as the case may be) to work out a mutually satisfactory disposition of the case. This may include giving to the victim (by the accused) compensation and other expenses incurred by him during the pendency of the case.

If, however, the court finds that the application was filed involuntarily, or that he was previously convicted for the same offence, the plea bargain cannot be accepted, and the case continues as per the provisions of the Cr. P.C.

When working out a mutually satisfactory disposition, the court issues notice to the accused, the victim and the investigation Police Officer to participate in the meeting to work out a satisfactory disposition of the case.

If, in such a meeting, a satisfactory disposition of the case has been worked out, a report is prepared by the court. Such a report must be signed by the presiding officer of the court and all other persons who participated in the meeting. If, on the other hand, no such disposition has been worked out, this fact has to be recorded and the case must continue as per the provisions of the Cr. P.C.

When a satisfactory disposition has been worked out, the court must dispose of the case as follows:

(a) The court must award compensation to the victim and hear the parties on the quantum of punishment. It can also release the accused on probation of good conduct or after admonition under S. 360 of the Code.

(b) After hearing the parties, if there is no minimum punishment provided by law for such an offence, the court may sentence the accused to half of the maximum punishment.

(c) If the offence committed by the accused does not fall under the above clauses, the court may sentence the accused to one-fourth of the punishment provided for such an offence.

Thereafter, the court delivers its judgment and the same is signed by the presiding officer of the court. Such a judgment is final and no appeal lies against it. (However, a Special Leave Petition (SLP) or a Writ Petition under Article 32 or Article 226 of the Constitution can be filed in such cases.)

It is also to be noted that the period of detention already undergone by the accused should be set off against the sentence of imprisonment awarded to the accused in such cases, as in other cases under the Cr. P.C.

Furthermore, statements or facts stated by the accused in his application for plea bargaining can be used only for the purpose of plea bargaining, – and for no other purpose.

These provisions relating to plea bargaining do not apply if the offence which appears to have been committed by the accused:

(a) Is one for which the punishment is a death sentence, life- imprisonment or imprisonment for a term exceeding seven years; or

(b) Affects the socio-economic conditions of the country; or

(c) Has been committed against a woman or a child below the age of fourteen years.

This entire Chapter also does not apply to a “juvenile” or a child” as defined in S. 2(k) of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000.