A plea bargain, or plea deal, is an agreement between the defendant and the prosecutor where the defendant pleads guilty (or no contest) to the charges in exchange for a lighter sentence.  In exchange for a guilty plea, the state will either reduce the charges, eliminate charges, or reduce the penalties. A plea deal is typically worked out between the prosecutor and defense attorneys prior to a hearing. Once in front of the judge, the lawyers will discuss that a plea bargain has been reached and what the terms of the plea deal are. The judge then rules accordingly. There are both pros and cons to taking a plea deal so it’s important to understand what they are before you make a decision. It’s best not to take a plea deal unless you have had sufficient time to discuss the matter with your lawyer and have a full understanding of it.

How Plea Bargains Work

Plea bargains are negotiations that take place behind the scenes and before the case is in front of a judge. They typically occur before the hearing and sometimes happen at the same time as the arraignment. In Florida, as few as 8% of cases go to jury trial. This means that a great majority of cases are resolved with guilty pleas or plea deals. The prosecutor will discuss the case with the defense attorney and come to an agreement. Your attorney will review this offer to you and you have the right to decide whether to take the plea deal or not. If you agree to the deal you’ll essentially be pleading guilty to the crime. The judge will go through a series of questions to ensure that you fully understand the situation. You will be giving up your right to a trial in the matter so it’s important that you waive this right to the judge. It is always best to discuss your case with your experienced defense attorney before making the decision to plead guilty.

Is a Plea Deal in My Best Interest?

It may or may not be – every case is different. What is certain is that your attorney should review all aspects of your case before rushing to make a decision to advise you to take a plea deal. Too often, plea deals are just a convenient way of quickly disposing of a case. In fact, taking a plea deal can get your case resolved very fast – but is that what you really want? If you have a strong case it is quite possible to have a not-guilty verdict. A not-guilty verdict is just as though the event never occurred. You won’t have a criminal record and won’t have to pay fines or serve jail time. In some cases, if the evidence against you is very strong, it may be better for you to take a plea deal. However, if the evidence is strong the state may not offer you a plea deal – they may prefer to take the matter all the way to trial. When the stakes are high, it is often better to agree to the terms of the guilty plea than to risk a more difficult sentence if found guilty after a trial.

Discuss your case with a qualified defense lawyer before making any decisions about a plea deal. Your lawyer will review the situation and weigh the evidence to determine the best way to go. Your attorney is also familiar with the outcome of similar proceedings in your jurisdiction  and will have some essential input in helping you make the final decision.