How Does Plea Bargaining Work?

If you have been arrested for a criminal act you will likely be facing several or more charges. The penalties for conviction may be severe and often include such things as a jail sentence, fines, probation, and community service. A plea bargain, also called a plea deal, is an agreement between the defendant and the prosecutor in which the defendant agrees to plead guilty in exchange for lesser charges. The prosecutor may agree to do this for a number of reasons. A plea deal is best accomplished with the help of an experienced criminal attorney.

Why Reach a Plea Deal?

The prosecutor may decide to offer a plea deal for a number of reasons. First, today’s jails are overcrowded. This means that many people convicted of crimes will end up spending less time in jail and may be allowed to remain free based on a plea deal. Sometimes a defendant may be overcharged – too many charges have been made against the defendant. For this reason, the prosecutor may decide to lower the charges in exchange for a guilty plea. The court system is generally overtaxed and understaffed and trials can take a long time and cost taxpayers a lot of money. When the charges and outcome are questionable, the defendant may be offered a deal.

Types of Plea Bargains

There are two main types of plea bargains:

  • Charge Bargaining
  • Sentence Bargaining

Charge bargaining is done to reduce or drop some charges against you. This allows you to accept a guilty plea for charges that carry fewer penalties. Sentence bargaining occurs when the prosecutor agrees to recommend a lower penalty when the defendant pleads guilty to the charges. For example, a charge bargain may happen when a prosecutor agrees to allow you to plead guilty to burglary charges rather than proceed with more severe charges that carry a stiffer penalty. Sentence bargaining would happen, for instance, if the prosecutor agrees to suggest lower punishment when you plead guilty. Both types of bargaining can be beneficial in certain circumstances.

When Should You Take a Plea Deal?

There are many factors to consider before agreeing to accept a plea deal. First, you need to understand the potential consequences of a guilty plea compared to the possible sentence should you be found guilty of the original charges. Remember that a deal requires you to plead guilty to some charges – charges that will remain part of your criminal record. Whether or not to accept a plea bargain is something that should be discussed in detail with your lawyer. Sometimes it makes sense to accept a plea deal while other times there is little benefit to you. If the chances are good that you could win at trial you may prefer to refuse a deal and proceed to trial. If you were found not guilty at trial you would not have a criminal record.

Negotiating a Plea Bargain

A plea bargain is typically arranged by negotiations between the prosecutor and the defense attorney. While the defense attorney is involved in the negotiation process the defendant has the ultimate decision as to whether to accept or reject the offer. An experienced defense attorney understands this process and is familiar with the typical sentences passed down for similar convictions. It is essential to have input from your attorney before deciding what to do. The strategy used in negotiating a plea deal can be complex and requires review of the many factors involved. Discuss your situation with your lawyer to learn more about how a plea bargain may apply to your case.