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?
- Quick resolution to your case
- Avoid going to prison
- Save money on legal fees
- More control over your case
- 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.
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:
- 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.
- Count Bargaining: Here, you plead guilty to one out of the three counts of aggravated assault as in the example above.
- 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?
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:
- Either plead guilty to the crime; or
- 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.