A plea deal or plea bargain is a valuable legal tool to help criminal defendants and prosecutors accelerate the criminal justice process.
These agreements allow parties to avoid the hassle and unpredictability of jury or bench trials and conclude legal proceedings swiftly. Keep reading to learn more about what happens when you accept a plea deal.
Plea deals allow criminal defendants to negotiate the parameters of the criminal conviction with prosecutors to obtain favorable outcomes without going to trial.
Essentially, a plea deal is a contract. In exchange for reduced charges or a reduced sentence, the criminal defendant agrees to plead guilty to the charges brought forth by the prosecution.
No two plea deals are the same, and the facts of the underlying criminal case can impact the severity of the charges, the length of the sentence, and the overall tone of the prosecution during negotiations.
Prosecutors have 100% discretion over whether to offer a criminal defendant a plea agreement.
Plea agreements may be considered as a way to reduce the prosecutor’s caseload, prevent first-time offenders from engaging in further criminal acts, or as a policy matter to advance criminal justice reform.
During the earliest stages of the criminal proceeding, the assigned prosecutor handling the case can offer the criminal defendant a chance to avoid full prosecution (if the defendant is likely to or already has pleaded not guilty) by agreeing to a plea or changing an existing plea to guilty.
If the defendant agrees, the prosecution can offer reduced charges and punishment for the guilty plea.
Under Rule 3.171 of Florida’s Rules of Criminal Procedure, the prosecutor can approach a criminal defendant’s legal counsel (or the defendant if they are representing themselves) with a potential plea agreement.
The defense counsel or the defendant can negotiate the parameters of the plea agreement, which often includes a discussion of the relevant facts and applicable law surrounding the case.
An experienced Florida criminal defense attorney will understand the severity of the looming conviction and the current status of evidence to determine the viability of a full prosecution and leverage the risk of acquittal or mistrial for reduced charges or sentences.
Both the prosecutor and your attorney can use information and input from relevant people in the case, like investigators, witnesses, and victims.
Before a plea agreement can be finalized by both parties, the trial court judge overseeing the case must approve the agreement. Only in rare circumstances will a judge deny a plea agreement.
Criminal defendants considering a plea deal should understand the benefits and consequences of accepting a plea offer–of which there are many.
Many attorneys recommend plea agreements which result in criminal conviction to the underlying originally charged crime causing defendants to endure the consequences of a criminal conviction on their record, whether it is a misdemeanor, felony, or both.
However, through plea agreements a good attorney can help reduce harsher charges and sentencing, which results in downgraded charges, shorter sentences, lower fines, and better probation terms.
In many instances, a defendant may be placed on probation without facing incarceration through a plea deal.
Lastly, some offenses (primarily drug offenses) include mandatory minimums. Thus, only if a defendant is offered reduced charges through their attorney’s negotiations with the prosecutor of their case, can their sentence be reduced.
An experienced Florida criminal defense attorney can provide proper guidance on negotiations and sentencing issues.
If you or a loved one has been arrested in Florida, it is vital to seek legal representation as quickly as possible.