Plea Bargaining 101

August 11, 2015 at 9:59 am (Legal Articles) (, , , )

Plea Bargain
MY FOUR CENTAVOS By Dean Andy Bautista
The Philippine Star January 22, 2011

Given the continuing interest on the General Garcia plunder case, it may be worthwhile to discuss the concept of a plea bargain. This is essentially an agreement in a criminal case where the prosecution and the defense agree that the accused will plead guilty to a lesser charge than what is contained in the information. The equivalent of a plea bargain in a civil case is a compromise settlement.

Parties enter into a plea bargain for several reasons. Aside from escaping the rigors of a full blown trial, the accused may wish to avoid the risk of conviction to the original, more serious charge. As far as the prosecution is concerned, a plea bargain should mean reduced costs and the ability to focus more on other cases.

In the United States, a plea bargain can be one of several types. Charge bargaining occurs when an accused pleads guilty to a less serious crime (as in the Garcia case). In count bargaining, the accused pleads guilty to a subset of multiple original charges. In sentence bargaining, an accused knows in advance what sentence will be given. In fact bargaining, the prosecution and defense agree to a certain stipulation of facts which will affect what the penalty will be in accordance with the sentencing guidelines. Interestingly, in the US, plea bargaining has become the rule rather than the exception in criminal cases.

In the Philippines, the pertinent rule on plea bargaining is found in Rule 116, Section 2 of the Rules of Court which provides:

Plea of guilty to a lesser offense — At arraignment, the accused, with the consent of the offended party and prosecutor, may be allowed by the trial court to plead guilty to a lesser offense which is necessarily included in the offense charged. After arraignment but before trial, the accused may still be allowed to plead guilty to said lesser offense after withdrawing his plea of not guilty. No amendment of the complaint or information is necessary.”

In the Garcia case, the original charge was that of plunder which is a capital crime punished under Republic Act 7080. The lesser offense that he subsequently pleaded guilty to was direct bribery which is punished under Article 210 of the Revised Penal Code and facilitating money laundering covered under Republic Act 9160. Query as to whether the crime of direct bribery and money laundering are “necessarily included” in the offense of plunder? Note that both crimes are punished by different laws.

Note as well the requirement of obtaining the consent of the offended party before the trial court will allow the downgrading of the original offense charged. In this instance, who is the offended party? Is it the Armed Forces of the Philippines since the money seems to have been taken from its coffers or the Republic since public money is involved. In any event, if we follow the news reports, it would seem that neither of their consents was secured.

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