*This article was updated in August 2021.*
Plea bargains are common in the criminal justice system, and approximately 90 percent of criminal cases receive one – whether the defendant accepts it is different.
While some criticize plea bargaining, it does serve a purpose in the system. The process of offering a defendant a deal in exchange for a plea seems simple, but it is a complicated process.
If you are offered a plea bargain, you are not obligated to take it. However, you should consult with your defense attorney and explore all options before refusing. In some cases, a plea bargain makes sense, while in other cases, your odds might be better at trial.
What is a Plea Bargain?
A plea bargain is a formal agreement between the prosecution and the defendant. Typically, you must plead guilty to receive a reduced sentence or reduced charges. Even if you agree to the plea bargain, it must be presented to a judge, and the judge does have the right to deny the plea bargain.
Why are Plea Bargains Used?
Plea bargains serve a purpose for courts. Some reasons prosecutors offer them include:
- Reducing the number of cases going to court. Sometimes, it is easier for a prosecutor to offer a plea bargain than take a case to court. After all, the court system is already overcrowded. Judges will accept plea bargains to reduce the burden on the court too.
- Prosecutors need to focus on some cases. A prosecutor is overburdened with cases every week. To focus their efforts on bigger cases, they may offer plea bargains to cases with first-time offenders or lesser charges so that they can reduce the strain on their schedule.
- Defendants can save time and money. Going to trial costs money and takes a considerable amount of time. For the defendant on a limited budget or wants to get their case over with, a plea bargain speeds up the process and lets the defendant get on with their life.
The Types of Plea Bargains
A plea bargain is a term that encompasses a category of deals. However, there is more than just one type of plea bargain. Understanding the various types is critical because some plea bargains are more favorable to a defendant than others. Naturally, you should never accept a deal from the prosecution without speaking to an attorney.
The three main types include:
Charge bargains are the most common type. The defendant pleads guilty to a lesser charge in this case, and the prosecutor agrees to dismiss greater charges. For example, the defendant could agree to plead guilty to manslaughter instead of murder charges.
A sentence bargain allows a defendant to plead guilty to the same charge but receives a lighter sentence in return. A judge must approve these bargains, and the judge can deny the sentencing agreement. Most jurisdictions do not allow sentence bargains unless they are for minor crimes because most jurisdictions have mandatory sentences that cannot be “bargained” with.
Fact bargains are rare but happen when the defendant agrees to stipulate specific facts to prevent other types of evidence from being introduced.
Consult with a Defense Attorney Before Accepting Any Deals
If the prosecution has approached you for a plea bargain, speak with a criminal defense attorney like Mark S. Rubinstein, P.C.
Plea bargains can force you to spend months or years in jail – and sometimes, your attorney can negotiate better deals or have the charges dismissed entirely.
Schedule your consultation today with an attorney ready to fight for you. Call 970-704-0888 or request more information online.