Plea Bargain

A plea bargain is an agreement between a defendant and a prosecutor where the defendant pleads guilty, and in exchange, the prosecutor drops or reduces the charges.

There are two types of plea bargains:

Sentence bargaining where the prosecutor recommends a lighter sentence for specific charges if the defendant pleads guilty to those charges.

Charge bargaining where the prosecutor agrees to drop certain charges or reduce a charge in exchange for a plea.

A plea bargain can be made anytime during the justice process. This means a defendant can opt for a plea bargain when they are arrested. A deal can even be finalized when a jury returns to announce its verdict. In the case of a hung jury, the two parties can again negotiate a plea instead of prolonging the trial. Plea deals can also be made if a verdict has been reached, but the defendant has filed an appeal.

Pros of a Plea Bargain

  1. A plea bargain is an efficient way to reduce the number of court cases since criminal courts are already too crowded and both judges and prosecutors are under a great deal of pressure to move cases quickly.
  2. A plea bargain is also quite useful because it can be arranged and managed quite quickly as compared to a criminal trial which could take days, weeks, months or even years.
  3. A plea bargain reduces the risk of bad outcome. A case that goes to trial can go either way depending  on the evidence, the testimonies, etc. But in the case of a plea bargain, both the defendant and the prosecutor have more control, and while the agreement may not be ideal, it usually is mutually beneficial.
  4. A criminal case can be fairly complicated and can take months to resolve. Many people cannot afford to pay the legal fees associated with this lengthy process. A plea bargain allows the defendant to not only avoid a negative outcome, but to also save the cost of legal fees.
  5. A plea bargain is no longer considered a “back door” to freedom. Plea deals are now arranged and accepted by the justice system, and there are specific rules that must be adhered to for a plea bargain to be accepted by the judge.

Cons of a Plea Bargain

  1. Basically, when you agree to a plea bargain, you are giving up your right to a fair trial. It is usually the fear of outcome, the duration of the judiciary process and/or the magnitude of legal costs that force people to agree to make such a deal. But even if many people do engage in plea bargains today, the fact still remains that the defendant is giving up their right to a fair trial.
  2. While there is no doubt that a plea bargain is a quicker and more effective method of resolving a case, it is important to keep in mind that when a defendant agrees to a no-contest plea, this means they are pleading guilty. A guilty plea, in turn, will show up in that person’s criminal record. The only advantage of a no-contest plea versus a guilty plea is that if at a later stage, the defendant is sued by the victim, the guilty plea can be used as evidence, but a no-contest plea will not be considered as an admission of guilt.
  3. Since both a no-contest plea and a guilty plea will appear on the defendant’s criminal record, it will affect many rights and privileges such as the right to vote. A criminal record can also affect the ability of the defendant to find a job, get a loan, etc. On the other hand, if the defendant is confident that they are not guilty, and if they go trial, and if the jury rules in their favor, there will be no criminal record and no negative consequences.
  4. If the defendant in question is a licensed professional, they should keep in mind that a plea bargain could result in a suspension or revocation of their license. This could alter the course of their career as well as their potential to earn a good income. This is dependent on the type of crime that was committed and the type of agreement that is made, but it is something to think about before signing on the dotted line.
  5. A plea bargain can also be considered an easy way out for those in the legal profession. Lawyers do not have to work too hard to prepare their case. There is no need to gather evidence, prepare an argument, or investigate. You can simply outline a deal, and that is the end of it. This is obviously not the ideal definition of justice.
  6. A plea bargain can be unfair sometimes if the defendant is actually guilty of the crime they are being accused of. By making an agreement with such an individual, the justice system is basically offering them a “get out of jail” card which might not be a good idea in certain cases.

Overall, a plea bargain offers advantages and disadvantages, but it is part of the justice system today. Depending on the situation, it can often be a quick and effective way of resolving a criminal case without wasting important resources like time and money.

Author Bio : Liz S. Coyle is the Director of Client Services for JacksonWhite Attorneys at Law. She also serves as a paralegal for the Family Law Department. She is responsible for internal and external communications for the firm.