How Plea Bargaining Works

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A plea bargain is defined as an agreement in a criminal case between the prosecutor and the defendant where the prosecutor convinces the defendant to plead guilty to a lesser charge or to the original charge with a recommendation of a lighter sentence. A plea bargain allows the defendant to skip the lengthy process of a court trial and to avoid being convicted of the possible stronger charge. There are three types of plea bargaining available to defendants today.

The three forms of plea bargaining are:

  • Charge Bargaining: This is used when a defendant pleads guilty to a less serious crime than the one originally imposed
  • Count Bargaining: This is used when the defendant pleads guilty to a fewer number of the charges.
  • Sentence Bargaining: This is used when the defendant pleads guilty knowing what sentence will be given.

Is a plea bargain legally binding?

A plea bargain is legally binding and it is a contract between the prosecutor assigned to the case and the defendant named in the case. Both parties involved in the contract must abide by the terms of the agreement. Some common terms of plea bargaining include pleading guilty on a specific date, cooperating in the investigation of another offense, or testifying against a co-defendant. If any of the terms of the agreement are broken then the bargain may be revoked if the defendant fails to satisfy their terms of the agreement.

If you may need legal assistance regarding a Plea Bargaining Matter, consult with a Criminal Defense Lawyer in your area for a free case review in exploring your legal options.

If the prosecutor breaks the plea agreement between the two parties than the defendant can request that the prosecutor follow the agreement or that it should be set aside altogether. This most commonly occurs when the prosecutor promises not to file subsequent charges in return for a guilty plea but does so anyway. A defendant and a prosecutor should always make sure that the plea bargain is recorded and written down to make sure that no one can claim that a plea bargain was never discussed.

A plea bargain is only valid when there are three essential components present:

  • A knowing waiver of rights
  • A voluntary waiver
  • A factual basis to support the charges to which the defendant is pleading guilty

The four main reasons that a plea bargain is offered by the prosecutor to the defendant are:

  • Defendants can avoid the time and cost of defending themselves at trial, the risk of harsher punishment, and the publicity a trial could involve.
  • The prosecution saves the time and expense of a lengthy trial.
  • Both sides are spared the uncertainty of going to trial.
  • The court system is saved the burden of conducting a trial on every crime charged.

Plea bargaining is a completely private process when it takes place. This means that no one besides the defendant, the defense counsel, the prosecutor and sometimes the judge are present in the conference room; not even the victim of the defendant. The details of a plea bargain are not made known to the public until the bargain has been agreed upon by all sides involved. Some jurisdictions are now allowing the victim or victims of the defendant to have a say in the plea bargaining process. Most plea bargains must be approved by a judge in a court of law before it can be put into place. It cannot be approved by a judge until both side of the process agree on the terms of the bargain. When presented the plea bargain to the judge he or she will ask both sides if they approve of the terms. If one side does not approve of the terms then the two sides have to go back to work regarding agreement.

 

If you may need legal assistance regarding a Plea Bargaining Matter, consult with a Criminal Defense Lawyer in your area for a free case review in exploring your legal options.

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