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What kinds of things are negotiable in plea bargaining?

Mar 21, 2022 | Criminal Defense

You may have heard that most criminal cases don’t go to trial. In fact, the government has a vested interest in settling most cases out of court. Trials cost money and use time and resources that are often in short supply. 

That can be to your advantage as a defendant if you aren’t innocent of the charges against you. That’s where plea bargaining comes in. Prosecutors are often willing to minimize the consequences on the defendant if it will save them the work and uncertainty of taking the case to a jury. Defendants often want to get on their lives as soon as possible and avoid the cost and stress of a trial on their loved ones.

Plea deals are typically negotiated around three areas. Let’s look at those.

The charge

Most often, this is the area of negotiation. Prosecutors may offer to reduce a charge or drop one or more charges in exchange for a defendant pleading guilty to a lesser charge. This can mean the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor or perhaps let someone avoid a charge that could cost them their career.

The sentence

Sometimes, a defendant’s greatest concern is having to spend time behind bars. Prosecutors may be willing to give them a reduced sentence or even allow them to avoid jail or prison completely in exchange for a guilty plea. Prosecutors may offer them probation or allow them to consider their sentence complete with “time served.” Sometimes, both the charge and the sentence can be reduced.

The facts

This is the least common subject of plea bargaining. However, it can be useful for someone who’s gotten involved in a complex legal situation. Basically, it involves a defendant “stipulating” to some incriminating facts so that the prosecution doesn’t have to go to great lengths to provide evidence of them. In exchange, they won’t introduce other facts they have that could get the defendant in more legal jeopardy.

Of course, the decision to plea bargain or not is up to each person who finds themselves a defendant. Someone who is innocent of the charges against them and wants their “day in court” so that they can be exonerated won’t want to make a deal. Unfortunately, however, innocent people sometimes are found guilty by juries. 

Regardless of whether you choose to seek a plea deal or go to trial, you need experienced legal guidance. This can help you ensure that you get the best possible outcome for your situation.