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No Jail Time: Choosing the Right Plea Bargain Strategy

No Jail Time: Choosing the Right Plea Bargain Strategy

If you plead "not guilty" to a crime, your criminal defense lawyer may try to negotiate a plea bargain with the prosecutors. Plea bargaining allows you to plead guilty to a lesser crime in exchange for a lighter sentence.

Advantages & Disadvantages of a Plea Bargain

If you've been charged with a crime, there are several incentives to accepting a plea bargain:

  • You may be charged with fewer crimes
  • You may receive a lighter sentence—such as a smaller fine, shorter jail sentence or no jail sentence at all—than if you'd been found guilty at trial
  • You may be able to avoid jail entirely
  • Your criminal record may reflect lighter charges (such as a misdemeanor rather than a felony) than if you were found guilty at trial
  • If you're paying your lawyer by the hour, you'll pay less in total legal fees than if your case went to trial

The downside of a plea bargain: You are agreeing to plead guilty to a crime, even if it's a less serious crime than you are charged with having committed. If you took your chances at a trial, you might be found not guilty and would face no penalties at all.

Plea Bargain Strategy

Let your criminal defense attorney try to negotiate a plea bargain. He or she probably has a pre-existing relationship with the prosecutors, which helps make the process go more smoothly. Criminal defense attorneys will also be familiar with what type of plea bargain is reasonable given the nature of the charges against you.

Give your lawyer feedback about the kinds of plea bargains you would find attractive and those that wouldn't appeal to you. For example, if you work in a job where a felony conviction is grounds for termination, you may place higher priority on pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge. Or if you've already been incarcerated for your crime, you may not care whether you plead guilty to a felony or misdemeanor, but simply want your sentence shortened to time served.

Know that your criminal defense attorney doesn't need your permission to have plea bargain discussions with the prosecutor. However, only you can choose to accept a plea bargain, and the deal may have to be approved with the judge in your case.

Look for more information about criminal law or for help in finding a criminal defense lawyer in your area on LawyerLocator.