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Bordenkircher v. Hayes


In rendering a decision, the Court was faced with a challenge to their previous decisions that tacitly supported plea bargaining. In order to clarify its position, the Court agreed to hear the case, and in order to provide guidance to lower courts, the justices reiterated and recognized the importance of the plea bargaining process in the U.S. judicial system. The majority held that a prosecutor had full authority to pursue more stringent sentences when going to trial so long as a defendant was able to exercise free will in making a choice to refuse a lesser sentence for a plea of guilty. Prosecutors had to, as did the Kentucky State prosecutor, inform the defendant at the outset of the plea bargaining regarding sentencing possibilities should s/he undergo a trial. The Court also clarified its findings in North Carolina v. Pearce (1969) that "vindictiveness against a defendant" in that case was defined as only a result of retaliation by a prosecutor for a defendant's success in another trial. In summing up their rationale for their ruling, the Court gave the plea bargaining process essential full sway. Aggressive prosecutors were given a tool to conduct plea bargaining in a manner that might deter defendants from pursuing trial by accepting lesser penalty in return for a plea of guilty.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1973 to 1980Bordenkircher v. Hayes - Significance, Impact, Pro And Con: Plea Bargaining, Further Readings