Criminal Law FAQs

Should I Agree to a Plea Bargain?

The vast majority of criminal cases — over 90 percent — are resolved through plea bargain. Plea bargains occur when the defense and the prosecution reach an agreement, which usually entails the defendant agreeing to plead guilty or no contest in exchange for a lesser charge or a lighter sentence. The agreement is then presented to the judge for consideration, and if the judge feels that the resolution is fair to all parties, he or she will make it official.

Why do so many people agree to plead guilty or no contest instead of going to trial? For the defendant, the advantages can be many. Taking a case to trial is a gamble, and a lot of people charged with a crime prefer to take a deal rather than risk getting a stiffer punishment. Depending on the crime, a plea bargain can quickly resolve the case and result in the defendant being released from jail. Pleading to a lesser charge results in a less serious offense on your criminal record. A lot of people simply want to avoid the hassle and cost of a criminal trial, or feel that loved ones would be better off if the matter was resolved more quickly.

For prosecutors and judges, accepting a plea is usually a matter of practicality. For better or worse, there are simply not enough resources or time to take every case to trial. Prosecutors have a never-ending stream of work and plea bargains help them resolve issues quickly so they can move on to the next case. Judges have to take into account not only their own calendars (court schedules) but also crowded prisons and overworked state employees. In most cases, prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges keep fairness at the forefront of these types of negotiations, but the need for speed does certainly enter into the equation.

As for whether you should take a deal, it depends on your particular case, the circumstances surrounding it, and your criminal history. A good defense attorney will give you the straight story as to what your chances at trial would likely be, and whether you would be better off accepting a plea bargain. While it may seem that they, too, are trying to hurry you through the system, and honest and experienced attorney will put your best interests ahead of getting your case over with. Despite what an attorney may know or recommend, the only person who can decide to take a plea is you, and you will have to weigh the pros and cons for yourself and your loved ones.

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