What is a Plea Bargain?
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In simple terms, a plea bargain is an agreement between the defendant and the prosecutor in which the defendant agrees to plead guilty in exchange for some compromises from the prosecutor.
A plea bargain is a legally binding agreement between the defendant and the prosecutor once it is approved by the judge.
These concessions can include dismissal of some charges, amendment to charges that result in reduced range of punishment, or other benefits such as an amendment to a lesser charge that carries fewer collateral consequences, (i.e., forfeiture of professional license, loss of a CDL, or other certification).
As a former prosecutor, I understand every component of a plea bargain as I have negotiated thousands of criminal cases.
In the beginning of my career, I served as an assistant prosecutor for one of the busiest courts in Missouri. From day one, it was of paramount importance I learn how to negotiate and provide a plea offer.
I have negotiated with high caliber attorneys and prosecutors all over the state of Missouri.
Our approach starts with a solicitation of a plea. I want you to have options. The decision to go to trial is potentially one of the biggest decisions you will make during your lifetime. I want my clients to feel some control, they can choose between an offer and the pros and cons of a trial.
Why Most Criminal Cases end in Plea Bargaining
“More than 90 percent of defendants plead guilty rather than go to trial.” –uscourts.gov
Plea bargains are the norm in criminal court. It is, of course, vitally important that your attorney can conduct a trial, but the reality is, your case may be a better candidate for a guilty plea rather than a trial. You want an attorney that can do both.
What is the Plea Bargain Process?
Attorney meeting with the prosecutor
When the plea deal is accepted
After a plea deal is accepted, you will have to go in front of the court to present your plea. At this stage, the judge technically can choose not to accept the plea deal, however, this is extremely rare. If you’re pleading guilty to a felony, then a record needs to be made. The plea process is more informal for a misdemeanor. At this stage, an attorney’s representation of you ends and you are responsible to comply with any conditions that were apart of your plea. It is only at this stage that a plea if fully accepted.
What happens if I change my mind? You have the option at any time to decide to not enter a plea. Up until the time you enter your plea in the court, and the judge accepts the plea, it is not binding.
What are the Pro’s and Con’s of Accepting a Plea Deal?
A plea bargain or offer can be of massive benefit to the Defendant. A plea bargain eliminates the uncertainty of a trial, which can provide piece of mind during what is almost certainly the most difficult time of your life. Moreover, a plea bargain will often include an amendment to a more favorable charge, or a recommended sentence that provides for much less prison time or probation.
There also exists the possibility of a Deferred Prosecution Agreement or DPA. A DPA is a contract between the prosecutor’s office and the defendant in which the prosecutor agrees to dismiss the case in exchange for a promise from the defendant to not commit any new crimes, communicate with a victim, etc. If the defendant abides by whatever conditions for the prescribed time, the case is never refiled.
A prosecutor has colossal discretion to dictate the terms of a plea bargain. It is critical your attorney can view the case through the lens of the prosecutor. As a former prosecutor, I know the states objectives. Prosecutors have incentive to plea cases as it lightens their trial load. As a prosecutor, I was responsible for hundreds of cases at any given time. If every case went to trial, I would be completely overwhelmed. A good criminal defense attorney will use this information as leverage to get you a better plea offer by explaining to the prosecutor why they don’t want to have a trial on your case. This can be accomplished by pointing out potential issues with your case.
Plea Bargain Examples:
Who benefits from a plea bargain?
What are three reasons a defendant may choose to accept a plea bargain?
The three main reasons a defendant may choose to accept a plea are as follows:
A reduced sentence. A plea bargain will often include an amendment to a lesser charge.
Piece of mind. You are provided with certainty as to how the case will end.
Protection. A guilty plea will often end an investigation, so you may have the option of pleading guilty to avoid a family member or accomplice from getting charged with a crime.