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How Are Plea Bargains Made?

Posted in Criminal Defense,Sentencing on September 24, 2020

Getting arrested and charged with a crime can be an incredibly scary experience. Those who are facing charges and their family members are often left wondering what their options are. First, it is important to understand that you need to secure a Riverside defense attorney as soon as possible. A skilled criminal attorney will be able to thoroughly review your case and determine your best options moving forward.

The vast majority of criminal cases are going to be resolved through a “plea bargain” process, often well before the criminal case reaches trial. In a plea bargain, the person charged with a crime typically agrees to plead guilty to one or more lesser charges as opposed to the one they would stand trial for. In exchange, they usually receive a more lenient sentence or have other charges against them dismissed. There are various reasons why a plea bargain may be preferable to both the defendant and prosecutors.

What is a Plea Bargain?

Plea bargains are agreements. In particular, these agreements are made between the defendant (the person charged with a crime) and the prosecutor’s office. When a plea bargain is made, this typically means that the person charged with a crime has agreed to plead guilty or nolo contendere (no contest) in exchange for an agreement by the prosecutors to drop one or more of the charges, reduce the charge to a lesser offense, or recommend a specific sentence to a judge.

Plea bargains are an essential part of the criminal justice process. As criminal courts in California become more and more crowded, both prosecutors and judges are pressured to move cases quickly through the court system. Criminal cases can take weeks or even months, and that is after a case gets scheduled on the docket. However, a plea bargain can be arranged in a matter of minutes between the parties involved. Additionally, the outcome of a trial can be unpredictable, which can make both the prosecutor and the person charged with a crime uneasy about moving forward with the case. A plea bargain could provide both the prosecution and the person charged with a crime a result that (in theory) both can live with.

The vast majority of convictions in the California criminal justice system come in the form of negotiated plea bargains. Not very many criminal cases end up in front of a jury.

However, we do need to point out that just because a plea bargain has been offered by the prosecution does not mean it is in the best interest of the person charged with a crime to take the deal. Sometimes, plea bargains are made by prosecutors who know that they do not have strong evidence in the case. A plea bargain could be a way for prosecutors to try to secure a conviction when they know they will not likely get one at trial. We strongly recommend that any person charged with or arrested for a crime in California seek assistance from a skilled attorney who can advise them about the best possible paths moving forward.

plea bargain basics

Why are plea bargains encouraged by the court system?

A plea bargain is generally going to be encouraged by the court system because they usually take much less time to settle, and they can help keep jails and prisons from being overcrowded. For both prosecutors and the defendant, the decision of whether to enter into a plea bargain will be based on various factors, including:

  • The seriousness of the alleged offense
  • The strength of the evidence in the case
  • The prospects of a guilty verdict should a trial proceed

How are plea bargains made?

There are a variety of ways that plea bargains are made between prosecutors and defendants in a case. First, we need to reiterate how important it is for a defendant to have a skilled attorney by their side for these cases. A lawyer will have the legal knowledge and experience necessary to examine the benefits of any proposed plea bargains.

Here, allow us to use a hypothetical situation to demonstrate how a plea bargain may be reached. Suppose Billy is arrested and charged with three counts of aggravated assault and battery after he allegedly used a brick as a weapon in a street fight. There are various ways a plea bargain may be reached in Billy’s case.

  1. The prosecutor handling the case could approach Billy and his defense attorney with an offer to allow Billy to plead guilty to a lesser charge. This could happen if the prosecutor believes they may not have enough evidence to convict on aggravated assault and battery. A lesser charge in this case could be simple assault or even disorderly conduct, both of which have more lenient sentences.
  2. Billy could agree to plead guilty to one count of aggravated assault and battery in exchange for having the other two counts dismissed.
  3. The prosecutors could have a very strong case against Billy, and the injuries suffered by the victims in the case may be serious. In that circumstance, Billy may agree to plead guilty to the original charges in exchange for a less severe sentence than he would likely have received should the case have gone to a full jury trial.
  4. Billy may agree to certain facts of the case, such as making threatening statements or using physical violence. In exchange, prosecutors could offer to charge him with a less serious offense. Billy’s admission would relieve the prosecution of having to prove the facts at trial, which is why they would possibly agree to the lesser charges.

This is only one theoretical scenario, and it is important to understand that every case is different. Plea bargains are usually an option for every criminal charge, but defendants must work with a skilled attorney.

Pros and Cons of a Plea Bargain

There are advantages and disadvantages to a plea bargain that a person charged with the crime needs to discuss with their attorney. Some of the possible advantages of a plea bargain include the following:

  • Lighter sentence. One of the biggest benefits of a plea bargain is that it could offer a lighter sentence, particularly when it looks like a conviction is inevitable.
  • Reduced charges. A plea bargain could help a person charged with a crime receive a reduced charge or have other charges against them dismissed.
  • Case completed. A plea bargain typically means that the case is over. A person will not have to wait any longer to know exactly what their sentence will be.

However, there are various disadvantages that could result in a worse outcome for the person charged with a crime. Some of the disadvantages include the following:

  • Allowing the prosecution to convict with a weak case. Plea bargains often allow the prosecution to secure a conviction even if they have a weak case. For example, there may not be convincing forensic evidence or credible witnesses, but by accepting a plea deal, a person accepts the conviction that the prosecution may not have otherwise been able to secure.
  • Possibility of coercion. Even when a person has legal representation, they may feel extreme pressure to accept a plea agreement in order to get the prosecution to back off. Prosecutors may pursue maximum punishments in an attempt to get a person to accept a plea deal.
  • Non-binding on the court. Even if a plea agreement has been reached with the prosecutor, the judge and the court does not necessarily have to accept the agreement.
  • A criminal record. If a person accepts a plea deal, this will result in them having a permanent mark on their criminal record that could affect their ability to get a job, find housing, or attend school.

At the Law Offices of Graham Donath, APC, our team is ready to help you with your case. You can contact us for a free consultation or by calling as soon as possible.