What is plea bargain and what is it good for? - Justice Centres Uganda
legal advice: Sanctioning of the file

What is plea bargain and what is it good for?

Plea bargain is the process between an accused person (in prison) and the prosecution in which the accused person agrees to plead guilty in exchange for an agreement by the prosecutor to drop one or more charges, reduce a charge to a less serious offence or recommend a particular sentence subject to approval by court. This is done in order to have a chance to reduce the punishment (e.g. time in prison) and to speed up the legal process.

Attention: The plea of being guilty will not be a bar to liability in any civil law suit.

Plea bargain at High Court level is held in sessions because the judiciary sets a particular period for it and during such a period all such files of accused persons willing to participate in this session are handled.

With other cases triable by the Magistrates courts the process is ongoing.This is largely encouraged for petty offences-it is especially popular during the lockdown period. The reason is that no hearing of criminal cases is taking place and therefore prisoners find themselves spending a longer time on remand.

Role of Justice Centres Uganda in Plea Bargain

  1. Justice Centres Uganda conducts Prison outreaches to identify prisoners who wish to plead guilty and benefit from the plea bargain arrangement.
  2. Identify petty offenders that are willing to plead guilty and get their proposed sentences based on the time they have spent on remand and the offence committed.
  3. Negotiate with the State Attorney and the Magistrate and agree on the sentences
  4. Reporting back to the prisons and informing the accused persons of the results of the meeting.
  5. If the accused agree with the conclusive decision on the sentences then a date is scheduled for the session.
  6. During the session, the accused person is required to plead guilty and are given lenient sentences such as community service, caution or a short custodial sentence.

This process helps in prison decongestion and also reduces case backlog in courts. Otherwise these accused persons will end up overstaying in prison not knowing when their cases will come up for hearing.

Lessons learnt:

  1. Capital offences are tried by the high Court and petty offences by lower courts (Magistrates Court)
  2. Capital offences take longer to be concluded (compared to petty offences)
  3. Pleading guilty to an offence may lead to reduction of the sentence
  4. Police bond is free.
  5. Bail in the High Court is applied for in writing while in the Magistrates court it is orally applied for.

Further Readings:

What happens when a family member/ friend has been arrested by the police?

What is Police Bond and who has the mandate to grant it?

What are capital offences and how are they handled?

What is the process of hearing the case of a person accused of a capital offence in the High Court?

What is the process of hearing a petty offender’s case in the Magistrate’s Court?

What happens when someone is arrested for committing a petty offence?

What is bail and what is it good for?

When and how to apply for Bail in High Court?

When and how to apply for Bail in a Magistrate’s Court?

Sources of information

  1. The Constitution of the Republic of Uganda 1995
  2. The Trial on indictment Act Cap
  3. The Criminal Procedure Code Act Cap 116
  4. The Magistrates Court Act Cap 16
  5. The Magistrates Courts (Magisterial Areas) Instrument 2017
  6. The Judicature (Plea bargain) Rules 2016
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