If you’re a CourtTV fan, you may think that full-blown criminal trials are the norm, but they’re not. The vast majority of criminal cases are resolved through plea deals of one kind or another.
Plea deals are convenient for the state, because they’re a guaranteed “win” for the prosecution. Plus, if everyone facing criminal charges insisted on a trial, the entire criminal justice system might otherwise grind to a halt.
Plea deals can also be useful for defendants. They can sometimes negotiate a conclusion to their case that they find satisfactory without the stress, uncertainties or expense of a trial.
Before you consider a plea, understand what’s being offered
There are basically three kinds of plea bargains that the prosecution may offer. These include:
- Fact bargaining: These are used when a case is still going to trial, but the prosecution and defense may agree to stipulate certain facts of the case (meaning everybody agrees those facts are undisputed). This helps the prosecution, but it may also allow a defendant to avoid having to explain their actions or expose unsavory details about a situation to the jury.
- Charge bargaining: This means that the prosecutor offers to reduce the charges against you in exchange for a guilty plea to whatever remains. That can mean dropping the number of “counts” against you, if you were charged multiple times for similar offenses, or it can mean lowering your charges to something less serious, like reducing a felony charge to a misdemeanor.
- Sentence bargaining: This means that you agree to plead guilty to the charges — whatever they may be — but the prosecutor will ask for a minimal sentence. You need to be wary, however, because not all judges feel bound by such agreements.
Plea deals can be useful — but they’re not right for every person or every case. Before you even consider that as an option, you should find out more about your possible defense strategies.