What is a plea bargain and should I agree to one?

A criminal case—from arrest through sentencing—can take months to work its way through the system. Due to an overburdened justice system, the legal process is a slow one and prosecutors and judges are highly motivated to resolve cases and clear dockets as quickly as possible. One way they do this is through plea bargaining. A plea bargain—also known as pleading out or taking a deal—is an agreement between the prosecutor’s office and the accused in which each side gives something up in order to conclude the case.

How Does a Plea Bargain Work?

The purpose of a trial is to determine the defendant’s guilt or innocence and, if he is found guilty, to issue a sentence. With a plea bargain, the defendant agrees to plead guilty or “no contest” in exchange for a lesser charge or a reduced sentence, thereby avoiding court altogether. A no contest plea is a way for a defendant to accept a sentence without having to declare that he or she is guilty.

Should I Take a Plea Bargain?

There are advantages and disadvantages to plea bargains. Depending on the consequences you face, it may make sense to accept a deal. On the other hand, your case may be solid enough to be successful at trial. This decision should never be made without consulting a criminal defense attorney; however, we discuss some points for and against here. The main advantages to plea bargaining include the following:

  • Quick resolution. In some cases, a plea deal is offered soon after an arrest. If the terms are acceptable, the case can be resolved within days of the original charge. Even when it doesn’t happen that swiftly, plea bargains resolve cases much more quickly than going to trial.
     
  • Guaranteed outcome. No matter what evidence you have to show your innocence, the outcome of a trial is never a sure bet. With a plea bargain, you know exactly what to expect and even have some say in the outcome.
     
  • Less costly. It takes a lot less time for an attorney to negotiate a plea bargain than to prepare a case for trial, so taking a deal could end up costing you less in legal fees.

If you are innocent of the charges, you obviously do not want to plead guilty just to save time and money. The downside to plea bargaining includes the following:

  • Criminal record. A plea deal goes on your record as a criminal conviction, even if you plead no contest. This can affect all aspects of your life, including your ability to get a job.
     
  • Opportunity for coercion. In an effort to conclude a case quickly, a prosecutor may pressure or even threaten a defendant to accept a plea. Sometimes, even innocent defendants end up pleading guilty under the pressure.
     
  • Potential for court rejection. Plea deals are non-binding on the court meaning you might think you have a deal only to have the court reject it and you are forced to go to trial anyway.

Talk to Your Lawyer

No matter how persuasive a prosecutor is or how many threats he makes, you should never accept a plea deal without talking to your criminal defense attorney. At the Clifton Law Office, we have the best interests of our clients in mind and we will help you reach a decision that makes the most sense for you. Before you do anything, call our office.