“Charge bargaining” and “sentence bargaining” in the state of California refer to different types of plea bargains. Plea bargains are negotiations that you can make with the prosecution in exchange for a lesser sentence or a reduction in the severity of your charges.
Before accepting any plea bargain, you’ll want to speak to a criminal defense lawyer to learn more about your options. Whether it’s charge bargaining or sentence bargaining, a plea bargain with the prosecution isn’t always the best solution for your case.
Understanding a Plea Bargain
With a plea bargain, the prosecution benefits by saving both time and resources in not having to prove a more severe charge. However, in any plea bargain agreement, the court must approve the reduction in the charge(s). If the court does not approve the plea bargain, the harsher sentence and charges remain in effect.
However, before you attempt to negotiate any kind of plea deal, you should strongly consider speaking with a lawyer to make sure you’re not settling for an agreement that sounds good on paper but doesn’t actually benefit you in the long run. Our criminal defense lawyers can review the deal you’ve been offered and advise you on whether you should take it.
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What Is “Charge Bargaining?”
Charge bargaining refers to the act of negotiating for a lesser charge. If the defendant accepts this type of plea bargain, they plead guilty to a crime that is less serious than that with which they were initially charged.
For instance, if someone is charged with a DUI murder, charge bargaining could result in the murder charge being dropped. Instead, the defendant would plead guilty to a lesser charge, like vehicular manslaughter.
What Is “Sentence Bargaining?”
Sentence bargaining occurs after the prosecution and the defendant come to an agreement on the sentence for which the prosecution will argue. The defendant then pleads guilty or “no contest” to the charges against them in return for the previously agreed-upon sentence.
Sentence bargaining saves the prosecution time by not having to prove the defendant’s guilt at trial. In exchange, the defendant also benefits by not having to serve as much time (if any) in jail. In cases where jail time is not a threat, the fines and fees the defendant faces can be reduced.
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Other Types of Plea Bargains
In addition to charge bargaining and sentence bargaining, there is also count bargaining and fact bargaining. Count bargaining is essentially a subsection of charge bargaining. Here, the defendant pleads guilty to one or a couple of the initial charges against him in exchange for the prosecution dropping the remainder of the charges.
As for fact bargaining, this is a process by which the defendant pleads guilty based on a particular set of facts that prove their guilt. The prosecution, in exchange, omits some of the facts that would have otherwise increased the severity of the sentence due to the laws surrounding sentencing. This is the least popular of the plea-bargaining types.
To better understand fact bargaining, consider the following example:
A defendant is charged with possessing over ten kilos of cocaine. Such a charge carries a hefty prison sentence. The defendant agrees to plead guilty to drug possession, provided the prosecution agrees to say that they possessed less of an amount than they actually did.
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The Plea Bargain Process
When negotiating a plea bargain, the process usually takes place behind closed doors in a room with only the defendant, their lawyer, and the prosecutor. The victim of a crime is never present during the process. However, they may still have a say in how it all plays out. Occasionally, the judge will also be present for these negotiations.
The public does not receive any details about a plea bargain until the agreement is finalized. After the defendant and the prosecutor agree to the terms of the plea agreement, it is submitted to the judge for approval. Only after the judge has signed off on the deal is it considered valid.
Accepting a Plea Bargain
It’s always very important to make sure you fully understand the facts of what you are agreeing to before you accept a plea bargain. If you’ve already been offered a plea bargain, it’s not too late to contact a criminal lawyer to help you with your case.
When you enter a guilty plea, the consequences could still be severe enough that it is better to take your chance in court. A conviction on a sex crime charge will require you to register as a sex offender for life. Adding a conviction to your record could also count against you with regard to California’s Three Strikes Law.
These are only two of the potentially major consequences that come with taking a guilty plea, so this is not a decision you should make lightly or alone.
Consequences for Violating a Plea Bargain
A plea bargain is considered a valid contract. However, this means different things for the defendant and the prosecution.
If a defendant violates an aspect of the plea bargain, whether a charge bargain or a sentence bargain, the established agreement is no longer enforceable. The defendant likely will not receive any further options for a reduced sentence.
A prosecutor, on the other hand, is not required to hold up their end of the deal. However, if the prosecutor goes back on their word, the defendant can appeal to the judge for relief, such as withdrawing a guilty plea.
Do Not Take a Plea Alone: Call Us Right Away!
Going to trial is terrifying when you think of the worst of the penalties you may face, so taking a plea may sound like an appealing idea. However, pleading guilty to a crime can have long-lasting effects on your personal and professional relationships, as well as your ability to get a job, buy a house, and engage in a number of important activities in the future.
You should not be taking a plea deal without talking to an experienced criminal defense lawyer first. The Simmrin Law Group has decades of experience advising clients just like you about their options. Legal advice could save you from potentially making the biggest mistake of your life.