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Understanding Plea Bargains



Plea bargaining is an important part of our criminal justice system. Basically, a plea bargain is a situation where a federal or state prosecutor offers a criminal defendant a lesser charge or penalty than what he is facing if he enters a plea of not guilty or no contest to the charges in question.

Why Do It

Every criminal case is unique, and prosecutors offer these bargains for many reasons. In some cases, the defendant is in a position where she can offer information about another, more valuable criminal who authorities are interested in. Sometimes, prosecutors are willing to trade a lesser sentence to such a defendant in exchange for valuable information on the more valuable criminal. Another very common example is a traffic ticket. In many jurisdictions, if the person cited pleads guilty and pays a fine through the mail, he will receive fewer points taken off his driver's license than had he not taken the plea deal.

Trials Are Expensive

One of the main reasons prosecutors offer plea deals to defendants is because it is expensive to go to trial. It is every citizen's right to have a trial by jury, but if a prosecutor and a defendant can come to an agreement without the time and expense of trial preparation, it is in the state's best interests to do so.

Not Always An Option

Plea deals are not always a choice for every defendant. In situations where a crime is extremely outrageous or heinous, prosecutors might not make an offer. In other cases where the defendant is truly innocent, he might turn down a plea deal and go to trial because he is innocent and he believes the jury will find in his favor. Every criminal case is different.

How do you know if a plea bargain is in your best interest? Working with a criminal defense attorney familiar with your case, the court system your case is being tried in, and with defending individuals charged with similar offenses is your best bet. You can work with your attorney to decide whether a plea agreement is in your best interest, given your specific circumstances.