What is a Plea Bargain?

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What is a Plea Bargain

A plea bargain is a process in which a criminal defendant and the prosecution reach a mutual decision on guilt in a criminal case. Subject to court approval, a plea bargain often aims to satisfactorily meet a prosecutor’s punishment demands with an agreement.

How Does a Basic Plea Bargain Work?

A plea bargain proposed between a defendant and prosecutor frequently requires the defendant to plead guilty. In most cases, the guilty plea serves to achieve a lesser or reduced sentence.  A plea bargain serves to achieve swift resolutions in cases containing little disagreement or overwhelming evidence of guilt. 

Why Do People Plea Bargain?

In general, defendants agree to plea bargains to reduce time, expenses and even lost quality of reputation. Because a plea bargain skips much of a court case’s argument stages, court costs are greatly reduced. Plea bargaining critics, however, sometimes complain that such efficiency can sacrifice true justice.

The Different Types of Plea Bargains

While most plea bargains serve the same end goal, various types do exist. Plea bargains exist in three types, and each is reserved to specific case types.

Sentence Bargaining

A highly common plea bargain, sentence bargaining is approached when a defendant seeks a lighter sentence. By pleading guilty, the defendant may “bargain” for reduced incarceration time upon the premise of goodwill.

Charge Bargaining

Charge bargaining is used by defendants pleading for a lesser charge. Also common, a charge bargain attempts to drop a greater charge, admit overall guilt, and contest a case for a lesser, lower-punishment, charge.

Fact Bargaining

Fact bargaining is relatively uncommon. When a defendant fact bargains, they agree to stipulate to determined facts. In doing so, they may be granted immunity from other facts utilized for evidence. Often, attorneys avoid fact bargaining due to its pick-and-choose structure. Court rooms, too, are averse to fact bargaining, and many do not permit it. Specifically, cases determining child custody are against fact bargaining due to the prevalence of morally gray outcomes.

How Does a Judge Authorize a Plea Bargain?

A judge will authorize a defendant’s plea bargain if the defendant is capable of making a voluntary or knowing waiver of their right to a trial. In such a case, the defendant must prove his or her understanding of the charges, the maximum sentence and the dynamics of a guilty plea.

If the defendant voluntarily confesses to an alleged offense in court, a judge may still decline. In most cases, a guilty plea and subsequent plea bargain is rejected if the charges contain no factual basis.

Do Plea Bargains Really Work?

The justice system relies on plea bargains to make the system run as soon as possible.  If there were no plea bargains, the courts would operate at an even slower pace than they do already.  Plea bargains allow for cases in which there are no questions of guilt to be disposed of more quickly and effectively.

How Long Does Negotiation Take?

Plea bargains often travel through “stages” of negotiation. Frequently, offers bounce between the prosecution and defense attorney, moving closer to a midway agreement. Actual bargains are crafted from in-depth negotiation, rather than obtained from an initial offer.

The somewhat lengthy process is justified, however, as two experienced negotiators can obtain a fair agreement. While a prosecutor may offer an unreasonable bargain at first, an experienced defense attorney can frequently find weaknesses in the prosecution’s case, thus leveling the playing field to best serve the client.

What are the Dangers of a Plea Bargain?

Those obtaining a plea bargain, it should be noted, do plead guilty. A guilty plea may remove the defendant’s right to an appeal, and could have collateral immigration consequences if a person’s is not a U.S. citizen.

It’s important to understand the dynamics of a plea bargain. Consequences are far-reaching, and a private criminal defense attorney should always be considered for advisory. Please call us at 817-841-9906 or fill out our contact form for assistance.

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