When you’ve been charged with a crime, plea bargaining can often be an effective strategy to avoid a grueling trial, and it can also result in a reduced sentence that may be far more lenient than if you had been convicted at trial. A skilled and experienced defense attorney will be able to advise you as to whether this is a good strategy for your case, as well as negotiate for the best possible terms.
Understanding Plea Bargaining
In simplest terms, a plea bargain is when the defendant agrees to plead guilty to a lesser charge in exchange for a lighter sentence, and to avoid a jury trial. Sometimes a plea agreement is offered by the state, while in other instances your attorney may initiate the negotiation. If both sides come to agreement and the judge approves the terms, the defendant pleads guilty, the agreed-upon sentence is rendered, and the case does not go to trial.
Plea bargaining is extremely common in both state and federal criminal cases for the simple fact that it is easier for all involved to come to agreement out of court. It’s important to understand that the prosecution often wants to avert a trial almost as much as you do, especially for non-violent offenses. The government wants to avoid the expense of a trial, and it is often in your best interests to negotiate for a lighter sentence, especially if the evidence against you is convincing.
When Your Attorney May Recommend Plea Bargaining
Plea bargains are not the best answer for every case, so it’s important to have the sound advice of an experienced defense attorney when considering a plea bargain. Your attorney may recommend plea bargaining if:
- A court trial is likely to result in conviction. Regardless of your guilt or innocence, if the evidence against you is likely to convince a jury of your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, your attorney may recommend a plea bargain as the best alternative solution.
- The sentence for a conviction would be steep. If the recommended sentence for your alleged crime is fairly severe, or if you’re likely to receive the maximum sentence if convicted, it may be in your best interests to plead guilty to a lesser offense in exchange for a lighter sentence.
- You are willing to help the court convict someone else. If you have information that could help prosecutors convict a wanted criminal, you may be able to negotiate for lighter terms by “turning state’s evidence.”
When Your Attorney May Recommend Against Plea Bargaining
There are times when it’s a better strategy to hold your ground in an upcoming trial. Your attorney may advise against a plea agreement if:
- The evidence against you is sketchy. If the attorney believes the chances for acquittal are relatively high, or that the case might be dismissed for lack of evidence, he/she may recommend letting the trial move forward.
- The terms of the plea bargain are unacceptable. If your attorney believes the difference in your sentence would be negligible or that the prosecution isn’t offering enough leniency, he/she may advise you to reject the deal and take your chances in court.
Our Experience with Plea Bargaining
When negotiated by an experienced criminal defense attorney, plea bargaining can be a very effective tool to minimize the outcome of the charges against you. The attorneys of the Federal Criminal Law Center have many years of experience with plea bargaining at both the state and federal levels, and their knowledge of the law and the courts enables them to negotiate for the best possible terms on your behalf.