Many, if not the majority, of criminal cases are not resolved at trial but instead result in a plea bargain. A plea bargain is an agreement between the defendant and the prosecutor. The defendant agrees to plead guilty of no contest and, in exchange for this, the prosecution will drop charges, reduce charges, or recommend a lighter sentence to the court. While a plea bargain may be a great way to go for many criminal defendants, it may not be for everyone. Here, we walk through some of the reasons to accept a plea bargain, and some reasons you may want to think twice about accepting a plea bargain.
Should You Accept a Plea Bargain?
There are several practical reasons why a defendant would want to accept a plea bargain. For instance, there can be extensive delays in the criminal justice process that can tie up a defendant’s life for months and months. The stress of the constant delays and waiting, coupled with the fact that no one can really predict what will happen at trial, can be stressful and expensive. Accepting a plea deal can offer a quick resolution and a feeling of control over the outcome.
The potentially quick resolution of the case may be particularly attractive to those defendants who will remain in jail until case resolution. While many defendants are offered a way out of custody by posting bail or being released on their own recognizance, not all defendant’s will have these options. Some defendants are not granted bail. Other defendants may be granted bail, but are unable to afford the bail amount. In these cases, the defendants will have to wait in jail until case resolution.
One of the biggest draws to a plea bargain is, of course, the chance to avoid a potentially guilty verdict at trial with more severe charges and sentencing. A plea bargain is an opportunity to not only have a lesser charge appear on the defendant’s criminal record, but also to receive a more lenient sentence. There is also the consideration of what could happen should the defendant find himself charged with criminal offenses in the future. A conviction at trial will appear worse than having a guilty plea or no contest plea to a lesser charge on record. Prosecutors and judges review a defendant’s criminal record for purposes of things like sentencing recommendations. This means that making a plea for a lesser offense now can help a defendant potentially avoid more severe criminal penalties in the future.
There is also the consideration that a plea bargain may result in a defendant being held accountable for a misdemeanor crime as opposed to a felony offense. This can make a big difference for a number of reasons. A felony means loss of certain civil rights. It can also mean losing the ability to obtain certain professional licenses and an inability to secure certain job opportunities.
While these are all reasons why a person might want to consider a plea bargain, accepting a plea bargain may not be the right way to go in every case. You should consult with a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney prior to accepting any sort of plea deal. You want to do everything you can to make sure you are actually getting a good deal and that will largely depend on the facts and circumstances of your own unique case.
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