You’ve heard it on television, and you might know someone in real life who has gone through a plea bargain in court.
A lot of criminal court cases are settled out of court if both sides can reach an agreement on the punishment. This is called a plea bargain. More cases are settled with plea agreements than juries or judges.
Why do plea bargains exist?
Plea bargaining is something that lawyers and others in the criminal justice system turn to for several reasons, including:
- Clients (i.e. defendants) can skip the often lengthy trial and the process of going to trial and facing the risk of a tougher punishment and a lot of publicity if the case goes before a jury or judge.
- Plea bargains also save on time and expenses for prosecutors.
- Both the prosecution and the defense avoid the risks of going to trial. For prosecutors, that risk is the defendant being acquitted. For the defense, that risk is getting a harsher punishment than the one agreed to in the plea bargain.
- The criminal courts can remain open for more serious trials and not have to pool a jury for every single criminal charge.
How do plea bargains work?
Plea bargains typically mean that a person accused of a crime will end up pleading guilty to a lesser charge than the one they’re facing. It could also mean that the prosecution drops some of the charges.
Here’s what has to happen for a plea bargain to work:
- Both sides have to agree on the deal before it can be set in writing.
- Sometimes, prosecutors will seek input from victims or victims’ rights groups before agreeing to a plea bargain.
- Judges are not required to hand down punishment in accordance with the plea bargain. The plea bargain is more of a recommendation for leniency by the prosecution.
- A plea bargain is usually private, unless victims or victims’ rights groups are involved.
It’s important to note that for plea bargains to happen, they must have these key elements:
- A voluntary waiver by the defendant of their rights to a trial
- A factual basis for the criminal charges
If you or someone you love has been charged with a crime, the only way to know whether a plea bargain is best for you or your loved one is to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney.
Only an experienced criminal lawyer will know whether you should go to trial or whether the prosecution is offering you a fair deal.
Let Jacqueline Ford’s law offices help you. Contact us today.