1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Plea bargains

March 19, 2013

In its recent ruling, Germany's constitutional court upheld a 2009 law allowing plea bargains in criminal trials. The court also used the occasion to remind judges and prosecutors to play by the rules.

Der Zweite Senats des Bundesverfassungsgerichts, v.l. Sibylle Kessal-Wulf , Monika Hermanns, Herbert Landau, Gertrude Lübbe-Wolff, Andreas Voßkuhle (Vorsitz), Michael Gerhardt , Peter Huber und Peter Müller, verkündet am Mittwoch (18.01.2012) in Karlsruhe sein Urteil über die Privatisierung von Vollzugsanstalten. Das Bundesverfassungsgericht hat die umstrittene Privatisierung des Maßregelvollzugs für psychisch kranke oder drogenabhängige Straftäter für zulässig erklärt. Foto: Uli Deck dpa/lsw +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++
Verfassungsgericht beim RichterspruchImage: picture-alliance/dpa

The German constitutional court affirmed on Tuesday (19.03.13) that plea bargains in criminal court cases are legal under the German constitution.

In upholding a 2009 law passed by Germany's parliament, the judges used the occasion to stress the importance of that law's central tenets - namely that plea bargaining adhere to principles of "justice" and "legality."

The court simultaneously ruled that in the cases of three men who had entered into plea bargains during criminal trials, those principles of "justice" and "legality" had not been upheld.

Misused in practice

The plea bargaining process in general, judges criticized, had de facto strayed from the 2009 law "in considerable scope." The 2009 law provided a strict legal framework within which plea bargains were supposed to be undertaken.

Prior to the ruling, critics had accused judges and prosecutors of using plea bargains as a means of speeding up backlogged criminal trials. Critics also claimed that, as result of those plea bargains, judges and prosecutors were unfairly affecting the "presumption of innocence" and were neglecting to ensure that evidence necessary to a fair understanding of the trial was heard in court.

As a result of the court's decision, the previous judgments against the three men whose plea bargains were under question during the constitutional court's hearings were rendered void.

Those men will have their cases heard once again in criminal courts in Germany.

cd/slk (dpa, Reuters)