Understanding the Court Process

Bail System

A bail system is whereby a property is pledged or deposited in a court to secure the release of a suspect. The practice is aimed at ensuring the accused returns to the court during the court process.   Failure to return to the court leads to the forfeiture of a bail.  Bails receive criticism since they serve the interests of the rich as poor people cannot afford to raise the amount specified in the bail. In other words, the rich are able to avoid being held in police custody since they can afford the bail. Judges do not consider the ability to pay by the accused to accommodate the interest of the poor. As a result, only a few poor people benefit from the bail system due to their inability to pay. The bail system in America varies from state to state since states have laws that differ substantially.  The Judicial Act of 1789 established the foundation of America’s bail system.  The act identifies the crimes that are bailable and created a framework for guiding judges when giving bail. There were concerns about the abuse of bail that led to the introduction of the Bail Reform Act of 1966(Maruna et al., 2012).  More reforms were made to the bail system in the year 1984 when the Congress introduced the United States Code, Title 18, Sections 3141-3150 that replaced the Bail Reform Act.  The main changes were directed to denying bail to a person who is a risk to the community. The code also specifies persons that should not be released on bail that include persons charged with capital offenses, specific drug offenses, and crimes involving violence (Maruna et al., 2012). The bail system continues to be opposed by some sections of the society despite the changes.

A Bench Trial and a Jury Trial

There are two types of trials in the American court system that are the bench trial and the jury trial.  Each type of trial has strengths and weaknesses that make it necessary to have a good understanding of both types of trial.  The bench trial is carried out by a judge only, meaning that no other party influences the trial process. The judge is, therefore, the ruler and the facts finder.   In other words, the judge evaluates the credibility of the evidence and makes decisions regarding the court proceedings.  The bench trial is useful in handling complex cases that cannot be handled by a jury effectively. Another major advantage of the bench trial is the time economy since the jury selection process is avoided.  The main weakness of the bench system is the absence of diversity of opinions that is likely to result in a biased sentence (King et al., 2005).

A jury trial is when a panel of members of the community is established to perform the function of finding facts.  The jury receives and evaluates the facts presented by each side of a case to form a sound basis for giving a verdict. Members of the jury lack advanced knowledge of law and procedure matters. As a result, the judge is required to provide guidance on the two matters to promote objectivity in the trial process. The jury’s benefit over the bench system is that it is not answerable to anyone.  Members of the jury are not employees of the judiciary and therefore do not consider the ramifications of a decision on their career. A judge is always careful when delivering verdict since they are appointed by the governor.  It means that a judge may be reluctant to pass politically unpopular decisions.   The main disadvantage of the jury process is that it is time consuming. The process of selecting a jury consumes a lot of time. Time is also wasted when building consensus when delivering a verdict (King et al., 2005).

Plea Bargaining

A plea bargain is when the prosecution and defense in a criminal case reaches an agreement requiring the accused to plead guilty before a trial commences.  It can terminate a case before the commencement of a trial but it is subject to court approval.  The practice is considered a shortcut to justice since it eliminates the need of having to go through the entire trial process.  The accused is motivated to plead guilty by the prosecutor’s offer of a more favorable sentence recommendation or drop of some charges (Lynch, 2003). A plea bargain is authorized by court rules and statutes and therefore has binding ramifications.  In the federal court, the plea bargaining is provided by the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure rule eleven section (e).  The law states that the plea bargain should only take place before a trial commences or when there are delays in the trial. The judge authorizes plea bargain only when specific conditions are fulfilled. Firstly, the accused must have an understanding of the maximum possible sentence   that can emanate from his/ her pleading guilty. Secondly, the accused must forego the right to a fair trial voluntarily without any form of coercion. Thirdly, the accused must have a good understanding of the charges. Lastly, the accused must confess of the charges voluntarily in a court.  Having fulfilled these conditions, the judge approves a plea bargain that leads to a sentence thus avoiding the lengthy court proceedings (Lynch, 2003).

Pros and Cons of Plea Bargaining

Plea bargaining has received praise and criticism in equal measures. These diverse reactions emanate from its many advantages and disadvantages. Starting with the advantages, a plea bargain clears the uncertainties in a case that is of benefit to both the prosecution and defense. The parties in a criminal case are able to have a clear understanding of the case’s outcome. A plea bargain also reduces congestions in a court since the trial process is avoided. Plea bargaining creates a room for leniency since the prosecutor drops some charges once the accused agrees to plead guilty of a specific offense. It also guarantees a win to the accused since the benefits of pleading guilty are specified clearly before implementing a plea bargain.  Lastly, plea bargaining improves the operations in the justice systems by avoiding costs associated with establishing a jury and other court processes (Bibas,2004).

Plea bargaining has some disadvantages that make it receive criticism.  There are cases of forced guilt when the prosecutor coerces the accused to plead guilty. It   leads to a loss of innocence as some people may plead guilty even when they are not due to the fear of being proved guilty by the bench or the jury.   Pleading guilty may compromise justice to people affected by the crime since the perpetrators are likely to be subjected to a lesser crime.  The constitution gives every citizen the right to a fair trial and implementing a plea bargain encourages the violation of this right (Bibas, 2004).


Bibas, S. (2004). Plea bargaining outside the shadow of trial. Harvard Law Review,4(3), 34-66

King, N. J., Soulé, D. A., Steen, S., & Weidner, R. R. (2005). When process affects punishment: Differences in sentences after guilty plea, bench trial, and jury trial in five guidelines states. Columbia Law Review,105, 959-1009.

Lynch, T. (2003). The Case Against Plea Bargaining. Regulation26(3), 24-27

Maruna, S., Dabney, D., & Topalli, V. (2012). Putting a Price on Prisoner Release: The History of Bail and a Possible Future of Parole. Punishment & Society, 14(3), 315-337.




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