A plea bargain is a procedure incorporated in Chapter XXI-A of the Criminal Procedure Code for a mutually satisfactory disposition of a criminal case.
In plea bargain proceedings, the Investigating Officer, the Public Prosecutor, the victim of a crime, the complainant and the person accused of an offence join hands to voluntarily settle a pending criminal case to each other's mutual satisfaction. The process is completely voluntary.
If the plea bargain succeeds, the criminal case is disposed of in terms of the agreed settlement. If the plea bargain does not succeed, the criminal case proceeds from the stage when the plea bargain application was filed.
An application for a plea bargain can be filed :
By any adult accused of an offence that is punishable with imprisonment of less than seven (7) years,
The applicant should not have been earlier convicted of a similar offence.
There are a few more exceptions to this general rule which can be explained by the office of the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate, Delhi and the Delhi Legal Services Authority.
A person who has not committed any offence can not file an application for a plea bargain.
Can be moved at all the stage, cognizance.
Section 265B(2) of the Criminal Procedure Code requires only a brief description of the case, including the offence to which the case relates.
What this means is :
The application should disclose the name of the applicant and enough information to identify the case in which the application is filed.
The application should be as simple as possible, but it should disclose
- The case number (if any)
- The FIR number and date,
- The police station and district concerned,
- The statute and its sections alleged to have been violated,
- The next date of hearing.
The application should be accompanied by an affidavit stating:
- The application has been voluntarily filed,
- The applicant has understood the contents of the application,
- The applicant is aware of the nature and extent of a punishment provided by law in his case,
- The applicant has not been previously convicted in a case in which he has been charged with the similar offence.
The application is not required to contain an admission of guilt or details of the manner in which the offence was committed.
IMPORTANT : A draft of the application and affidavit is available free of charge in the Facilitation Counter, Tees Hazari Courts, Delhi.
The benefits of a successful plea bargain are many. Some of them are :
- The process is 100% voluntary,
- The applicant is likely to get a much reduced punishment,
- There will be quick disposal of the pending criminal case,
- The applicant will avoid the trouble of coming to the court for several hearings,
- If successful, a plea bargain will result in an amicable and mutually satisfactory disposition of the pending criminal case.
- An application for a plea bargain can be withdrawn at any time before the disposal of the case.
- An applicant is entitled to the presence of his lawyer throughout the plea bargain proceedings.
- An application for Plea Bargaining should be filed in the Court of the
Metropolitan Magistrate where the case is pending
- No court fee is to be paid on the application or the accompanying affidavit.
On receipt of an application for Plea Bargaining, the Metropolitan Magistrate will scrutinize it and if it is in order, he or she will send to Plea Bargaining Magistrate through office of Chief Metropolitan Magistrate at Tis Hazari Court complex and office of ACMM at Karkardooma Court Complex. The application will be taken up for consideration by the Plea Bargain Magistrate as soon as possible and in any event on the next working day.
Where does the Plea Bargain Magistrate hold a sitting?
The Plea Bargain Magistrate will initially be available in Room No. 238, (2nd Floor), Tis Hazari Courts, Delhi on all working days between 10.00 pm to 5.00 pm and in Room No-67 Block -B, fourth floor at Karkardooma Court Complex between 2.00pm to 5.00pm
What will the Plea Bargain Magistrate do on receipt of such an application?
The Plea Bargain Magistrate will consider the application and issue notice to the Investigating Officer in the case, the Public Prosecutor, the victim of the offence (if any) and the complainant. Whenever necessary, if it is found that the applicant/accused is not represented by a lawyer, he will be provided the services of a free legal aid lawyer.
After all the concerned parties receive the notice, what is the first step to be taken?
Preferably, before meeting the Plea Bargain Magistrate at time fixed in
response to the notice, all the parties concerned in the Plea Bargain should try
to arrive at a settlement in consultation with the Public Prosecutor. If it is
not possible to reach a settlement in advance, the Plea Bargain Magistrate will
assist the parties in arriving at an amicable settlement.
What is the next step required to be taken?
If an amicable settlement is not arrived at, the Plea Bargain Magistrate will duly inform the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate / ACMM concerned. Failed proceeding are kept in the Plea Bargaining centre. However, if a Plea Bargain is being arrived at :
The Plea Bargain Magistrate will have an in camera or Private discussion with the applicant in the presence of his lawyer to determine
Whether the Plea Bargain is voluntary,
Whether the Plea Bargain is acceptable to the applicant,
Whether the applicant has understood the meaning and effect of the Plea Bargain.
If the Plea Bargain Magistrate is satisfied that the Plea Bargain meets all the legal requirements, he will accept it and pass an order disposing of the case in terms of the settlement and inform the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate / ACMM concerned accordingly.
All the parties to the Plea Bargain are required to sign the order recording the settlement.
Are the Plea Bargain proceedings confidential?
Yes, the entire Plea Bargain proceedings are absolutely confidential. If the
Plea Bargain fails, then no party can use anything said in the Plea Bargain
proceedings in the pending criminal case. Even the trial Judge will not ask any
question about the Plea Bargain proceedings.
How long does it take to dispose of a Plea Bargain application?
The Plea Bargain Magistrate will make every effort to dispose of a Plea
Bargain application as soon as all the parties appear before him. In any event,
if no settlement is reached within sixty (60) days, the application will be
returned to the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate ACMM Concerned and thereafter the
criminal case will proceed quickly.
Can Plea Bargain application be withdrawn?
Yes, a Plea Bargain application can be withdrawn at any time before all the
parties to the Plea Bargain sign the settlement.
Can an accused make more than one application for a Plea Bargain?
Yes, an accused can make more than one application for Plea Bargain. The applicant must, however, realize that greater the delay in making an application for Plea Bargain, it will be more difficult to arrive at an amicable settlement. It is, therefore, advisable to accept the bargain at the time of making the first Plea Bargain application.
What is the sentence that will be awarded on the acceptance of Plea
This will depend on the nature of the offence and no definite answer can be given. But the options are :
- being put on probation under the Probation of Offenders Act, 1958,
- a fine or a compensatory amount,
- period of custody already undergone,
- custody upto a maximum of one-fourth (1/4) or one-half (1/2) the period of imprisonment provided by law, as the case may be.
An applicant will be entitled to set off the period of detention undergone against the sentence of imprisonment.
If an admonition or a supervisory order is passed under the Probation of Offenders Act, 1958, then Section 12 of the said Act provides that it shall not cast any stigma on the offender.