A plea bargain or plea agreement is a common pre-trial strategy in which the defendant makes an agreement with the prosecution to plead guilty to a lesser charge in exchange for a lesser punishment. In cases where the charges are severe or the penalties for a conviction are steep, this can be a very effective strategy to avoid a costly trial and significantly reduce the severity of the penalty.
How Plea Bargains Work
When you’re charged with one or more crimes, it’s important to understand that in most cases, especially for nonviolent crimes or first-time offenses, the government wants to avoid going to trial almost as much as you do. You want to avoid the pressure, embarrassment and threat of a long jail sentence (if convicted); the government wants to avoid the time and expense involved. For this reason, many times the prosecution will actually initiate plea agreement discussions, reaching out to your defense attorney with a proposal. At other times, your attorney may recommend making an offer to the prosecution. Either way, if the government is willing to negotiate for a reduction of the charges against you (and by extension, the severity or duration of your sentence), it’s important to have a skilled defense attorney working on your behalf to negotiate the best deal.
If both parties come to agreement, and if the presiding judge approves the terms of the plea bargain, you will enter a formal guilty plea to a lesser charge, and the judge will sentence you to the lesser penalty (which is often also determined as part of the plea agreement.
When You Should Consider a Plea Bargain
Typically, your attorney may recommend plea bargaining if the evidence against you and the odds of a conviction are high, or if he/she feels a plea agreement would result in a far more lenient penalty than if you were convicted on the original charge. For more information about plea bargains and plea agreements, consult your attorney.