Plea Bargains: What Are They & Why Are They Used?

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Plea bargains run our criminal justice system. 90% of cases are settled by way of plea deals. When you’re charged with a crime, your lawyer will negotiate a plea bargain.
In this article, we have endeavored to answer all of your questions.

plea bargain definition

A plea bargain is a pretrial settlement.
Instead of going to trial and risking a guilty verdict, you may be considering a plea bargain.
Plea deals are encouraged under Federal & State law.
However, if you’re innocent of your criminal charges, a plea bargain may not be an option.
We will discuss everything you need to know.

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 you are pleading guilty

See Guilty Plea Below for an example.

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For what reasons are plea bargains offered?

Pros

  • Quick resolution to your case
  • Avoid going to prison
  • Save money on legal fees
  • More control over your case

Cons

  • You’ll get a criminal record
  • Even if you’re innocent, you’ll have to plead guilty to a crime
  • You may have to be a witness against your friend

How do I apply for a plea bargain?

There are no plea bargain “applications”.

In other words, there is no form to fill out.

If there’s a plea bargain that you have accepted through your attorney, it should be put in writing.

All of the terms & conditions of the plea deal will be outlined in a document for your review.

Isn't a plea bargain & Plea Bargaining the same?

A “plea bargain” is the final result of the “plea bargaining” process.

Basically, the plea bargain will change over the course of time.

It could better or worse depending on the evidence available at any given time.

Different offers are made over the course of the bargaining process.

The prosecutor makes one offer & your defense attorney makes a counter-offer.

Once the deal is good for everyone, the final “plea bargain” is accepted.

What is a guilty plea?

This is the stage in the criminal process where you stand before the judge and admit that you committed the crime that you are pleading guilty to.

An example would be this:

Judge: “Mr. Defendant, on June 1st, 2020, in the jurisdiction of NYC, you admit that you sold a marijuana cigarette to undercover Detective Smith?

Defendant (you): “Yes, your honor”.

Judge: “You are pleading guilty because you are guilty?”

Defendant (you): “Yes”

Judge: “No one is forcing you to plead guilty? You are pleading guilty voluntarily?”

Defendant (you): “Yes”

Judge: “You are waiving your right to a trial in this matter”

Defendant (you): “Yes”

is there a difference between a felony Plea Bargain &
a misdemeanor Plea Bargain?

A plea bargain is plea bargain is a plea bargain!

You’re simply getting a benefit of some kind in exchange for a guilty plea.

A felony plea bargain & a misdemeanor plea bargain use the same principles.

Of course, federal crimes carry more serious consequences than misdemeanor crimes and thus they have things called mandatory minimums.

This means that you cannot get a plea deal for less prison time than that imposed under the law.

How to get a better plea bargain?

The quality of your plea bargain depends on your criminal defense attorney’s ability to advocate for you.

If your attorney conducts his own investigation and obtains evidence favorable to your case, then the plea offer not only improves but the entire case could get dismissed.

Sometimes your plea bargain can improve if you’re willing to work with law enforcement.

In street terms, snitches get the best deals when they rat out their fellow accomplices.

You can also get a better deal by cooperating with law enforcement as a confidential informant (CI).

Am I bound to the Plea Offer?

You are legally bound to do what you agreed to do.

If you go back on your agreement, the prosecutor can take the plea bargain off the table.

When you don’t satisfy the terms of your deal, you really strain your relationship with the prosecutor.

Your credibility, integrity, and reliability suffer and oftentimes, the deal gets worse.

Now, if the prosecutor breaks the plea bargain, then your defense attorney can ask the judge to enforce the deal.

It is quite rare for a prosecutor to break his/her word.

However, if you are in this situation, you have choices.

Facing Sentencing after your plea bargain?

After you plead guilty, you will be sentenced.

Different courts handle sentencing differently.

Some courts will sentence you immediately after accepting your guilty plea.

Other courts will schedule your sentencing date for months after your guilty plea.

Before you plead guilty, you will know what your sentence will be.

After all, having control of your sentence is one of the benefits for avoiding a trial and accepting a guilty plea.

What's a good example of a plea bargain?

An example of a plea bargain would be the following:

You have been arrested and charged with three counts of aggravated assault.

In an effort to avoid trial and help you reduce your sentence, fines, and penalties, the prosecutor offers to dismiss two of your aggravated assault charges.

In exchange, you agree to plead guilty to one count of aggravated assault.

How many plea offers will I get?

The truth is that you are not guaranteed to get any plea offer.

Prosecutors are under no obligation to make any plea offers.

This happens in the more serious & heinous felonies like aggravated sexual assault and murder.

However, on average you will get one plea offer.

It is up to your criminal defense attorney to help you get a better offer.

Sometimes this cannot be done since the evidence against you is very strong.

types of plea bargains?

Plea bargains fall into three categories:

  1. Charge Bargaining: This is where you plead guilty to an amended charge. You accept an offer to a “lesser charge” than the “more serious” charge you were arrested for.
  2. Count Bargaining: Here, you plead guilty to one out of the three counts of aggravated assault as in the example above.
  3. Sentence Bargaining: This type of plea bargain gives you the most control over your fate. You will accept a plea because you know beforehand what your sentence will be.

How To Get A Better Plea Bargain?

Plea bargains offer the quickest way for you to be done with the criminal justice system.
If you’ve been charged with a crime, you know that it’s the worst feeling in the world.
The whole purpose behind plea bargain negotiations is to get you out of your problem quickly.
You may consider taking accepting a deal when you receive a guarantee that you will not go to prison.

First-time offenders will usually be offered a plea deal in exchange for probation and no prison time.
See Pretrial Intervention

What are the signs that a criminal case is weak?

You should consider a plea bargain when there is a lot of evidence against you.
In other words, there may be no way for you to win at trial.

For example, nowadays there are video cameras everywhere.
If there is a video of you clearly committing the crime you are accused of, there may be no way to win your case.

You may consider making a deal if you were arrested as a co-defendant.
If you were arrested with one or more people, you will have co-defendants.

A typical example would involve a “drug party situation”.
If the police arrested ten people for marijuana possession at a party and you were part of that group, you may be offered a plea bargain in exchange for your cooperation.

If you were at the party but were not in possession of marijuana, why should you get a criminal record and go to prison?
You would get a plea bargain in exchange for being a witness against the other people at the party.

How Many Plea Bargains Does A prosecutor Offer?

Prosecutors love plea deals because it lightens their caseload, wastes less government resources and guarantees a conviction.

The more convictions a prosecutor gets, the higher their success rate.

Even when a prosecutor has a strong case, a jury still might acquit a defendant.

Trials can be expensive and sometimes Prosecutor’s offices run low on resources.
As a result, they may be motivated to offer attractive plea bargains.

Lastly, prosecutors often use plea offers to further their case against a co-defendant.

They may accept a plea bargain arrangement from one defendant in return for damaging testimony against another defendant. (Discussed above)

No Plea Bargained Offered: Isn't this illegal?

Absolutely not!
Federal and State law encourage plea bargains, but a Prosecutor does not have any obligation under the law to offer a deal.
We’ve represented many clients charged with serious felonies and they were not offered anything.
Remember, if the prosecutor has a slam-dunk case, he/she may elect to go trial.
Sometimes you only have two choices:

  1. Either plead guilty to the crime; or
  2. Go to trial.

Whose Decision Is It To Accept A Plea Bargain?

Accepting a deal is a difficult decision.
Your decision will depend on the specific facts of your case, your finances, your criminal history, and your willingness to risk it all on a trial.
Here’s our firm’s philosophy:
If you’re truly innocent; if you know in your heart that you did not do what you are accused of, then you should never plead guilty.
Of course, we understand that the biggest challenge of a plea bargain is when you feel pressured to take the safer path and avoid the risk of a trial.
However, this decision is yours and yours alone.

Problems with Plea Bargaining?

Your criminal defense attorney will identify & explain the strengths and weaknesses of your case.
He may be able to get your case entirely dismissed.
If a dismissal is not possible, he will discuss your legal defenses.
Then he will enter into plea bargain negotiations.
Once everything is on the table, it’s all up to you.
Remember, the advantage of making a deal is that you can avoid jail, wrap your case up quickly, and save money.
The disadvantages involve pleading guilty to a crime, getting a criminal record, and betraying your friends.

Is it true that I should Never take a plea bargain?

This is completely untrue.

Sometimes the best chance you will ever have of facing incarceration involves accepting a plea bargain.

However, if you are “truly” innocent (only you know), you may choose to go to trial.

People are wrongfully accused every day and look forward to their Constitutional day in court to prove their innocence.

Some Plea Bargain Statistics?

The United States federal government estimates that in 2018, 97.4% of all criminal cases are settled by way of a plea bargain.

Out of 70,000 criminal cases, the sentence distribution is as follows:

  • 87.8% went to prison
  • 3% went to “prison & alternatives”
  • 2% received “probation & alternatives”
  • 6.4% received probation only
  • 0.8% only received fines

Click here for a complete Overview of Federal Criminal Cases.

 

  • Have Questions About Your Case? Call today!

Please visit the Areas We Serve & Practice Areas pages for more information.

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How We Can Help

Regardless of the criminal charges you are facing, we are here to defend & protect you. Whether you are facing a restraining order, drug charge, theft charge, or aggravated assault charge, we are here to help you. Even a DWI case can really complicate your life.

If we can’t get your charges dismissed, we can either get them downgraded or place you in a diversionary program. The point is, our criminal defense lawyers will fight tirelessly to get you the best result possible. Take advantage of our free consultation to see how we can help.

Our Experience

You or a loved one have been arrested. Understandably, you are terrified & have a lot of questions. You’ve heard about plea bargains & probation, but the process is overwhelming. You want a local attorney near you to represent you.

Mr. Peyrouton is from Ridgewood & handles all types of criminal matters in New Jersey The New Jersey Law Journal recently published one of his articles on the subject of criminal law.

Our Practice Areas

Areas We Serve

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How Do Your Free Consultations Work?

There are plenty of excellent Hackensack criminal lawyers in our area. Most, if not all of them, offer free, 20-minute, consultations. However, our free consultations do not have a time limit. You will never feel rushed.

The best way for us to help you is to patiently listen to your side of the story. Your version of events will serve as the basis for your legal defense. It is during these initial meetings that your memory of the event is fresh in your mind. Why we would rush you during such an important aspect of your case.

We understand that your choice of attorney could mean the difference between your freedom and spending years behind bars. 

When you hire an attorney, you are entering a long-term relationship. For this reason, it is important that you feel comfortable with the team of Hackensack criminal lawyers that will represent you.

A person extorts if he purposely threatens to:

a. Inflict bodily injury on or physically confine or restrain anyone or commit any other criminal offense;
b. Accuse anyone of an offense or cause charges of an offense to be instituted against any person;
c. Expose or publicize any secret or any asserted fact, whether true or false, tending to subject any person to hatred, contempt or ridicule, or to impair his credit or business repute;
d. Take or withhold action as an official, or cause an official to take or withhold action;
e. Bring about or continue a strike, boycott or other collective action, if the property is not demanded or received for the benefit of the group in whose interest the actor purports to act;
f. Testify or provide information or withhold testimony or information with respect to another’s legal claim or defense; or
g. Inflict any other harm which would not substantially benefit the actor but which is calculated to materially harm another person.

***It is an affirmative defense to prosecution based on paragraphs b, c, d or f that the property obtained was honestly claimed as restitution or indemnification for harm done in the circumstances or as lawful compensation for property or services.

Reasonable Articulable Suspicion

Reasonable suspicion is a “search” standard that applies in criminal law.

When a police officer conducts a warrantless search, and does not have probable cause to justify the search, the courts look to see if the police had
a “reasonable & articulable suspicion” for the search.

A mere “hunch” is not enough.

In other words, a police officer has to provide an acceptable explanation for the search.

United States Constitution

Amendment IV

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

NJSA - 2C:43-7.2.
Eligibility for parole;
persons convicted of certain violent crimes

a. A court imposing a sentence of incarceration for a crime of the first or second degree enumerated in subsection d. of this section shall fix a minimum term of 85% of the sentence imposed, during which the defendant shall not be eligible for parole.


b. The minimum term required by subsection a. of this section shall be fixed as a part of every sentence of incarceration imposed upon every conviction of a crime enumerated in subsection d. of this section, whether the sentence of incarceration is determined pursuant to N.J.S.2C:43-6, N.J.S.2C:43-7, N.J.S.2C:11-3 or any other provision of law, and shall be calculated based upon the sentence of incarceration actually imposed. The provisions of subsection a. of this section shall not be construed or applied to reduce the time that must be served before eligibility for parole by an inmate sentenced to a mandatory minimum period of incarceration. Solely for the purpose of calculating the minimum term of parole ineligibility pursuant to subsection a. of this section, a sentence of life imprisonment shall be deemed to be 75 years.


c. Notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary and in addition to any other sentence imposed, a court imposing a minimum period of parole ineligibility of 85 percent of the sentence pursuant to this section shall also impose a five-year term of parole supervision if the defendant is being sentenced for a crime of the first degree, or a three-year term of parole supervision if the defendant is being sentenced for a crime of the second degree. The term of parole supervision shall commence upon the completion of the sentence of incarceration imposed by the court pursuant to subsection a. of this section unless the defendant is serving a sentence of incarceration for another crime at the time he completes the sentence of incarceration imposed pursuant to subsection a., in which case the term of parole supervision shall commence immediately upon the defendant’s release from incarceration. During the term of parole supervision the defendant shall remain in release status in the community in the legal custody of the Commissioner of the Department of Corrections and shall be supervised by the State Parole Board as if on parole and shall be subject to the provisions and conditions

Felony Degree

Prison & Fines

Examples

First-Degree

1st-degree felony charges in NJ are reserved for the most serious criminal offenses. Prison terms start at a minimum of 10 years in prison.

Second-Degree

2nd-degree felony charges carry 5-10 yrs in prison.
These charges can often be “downgraded” to 3rd or 4th-degree crimes.

Third-Degree

3rd-degree felony charges carry 3-5 years.
You have a good shot at PTI if you are charged with a 3rd-degree.

Fourth-Degree

4th-degree felony charges carry up to 18 months in jail. These cases can get “remanded” to a lower court. In this way, you will be out of “felony” danger.