Plea bargains are arrangements that a prosecutor and defendant enter into. Either side is allowed to propose a plea bargain, but both sides must agree to the terms before it is accepted by a judge. In most cases, the prosecutor offers the defendant a significantly smaller sentence than they would receive if the case went to trial or sometimes even reduces the charges. In exchange, the defendant must admit to their guilt.
Plea bargains are an important part of the judicial system. Not only do they provide you with an opportunity to accept a less severe sentence than you may get from a judge if the case goes to trial, but they also provide the prosecution with an opportunity to secure a guilty verdict without having to spend a great deal of taxpayer money on an expensive trial.
Most criminal charges are settled through the plea bargain process, with very few of them making it to trial. It’s estimated that approximately 97% of all federal criminal cases and 94% of state criminal cases are resolved via a plea deal.
If you are a defendant who has just been offered a plea bargain, the first thing you need to know is that you are under no obligation to accept it. This is something that you need to discuss with your lawyer. You want to make sure that it is a good deal and that you are perfectly clear on the long-term impact the plea deal will have on your life.
It’s important that you and your lawyer look closely at why the prosecution has offered you a plea deal. In most cases, it’s because they want the case resolved, but every once in a while, it’s because they have serious concerns about having enough evidence to prepare a successful trial case. Remember, the prosecution can present all sorts of evidence against you when they offer a plea deal, but for one reason or another, they may not be able to use that same evidence in a trial.
The last thing to keep in mind when considering a plea bargain is that a judge does have to sign off on the deal. Although it’s rare, sometimes a judge will reject a plea bargain because they don’t like the reduction in charges or because they don’t feel like the proposed sentence is severe enough for the crime.
You should never accept a plea bargain without first considering all the pros and cons.