Plea bargains are a useful legal tool. However, they are not always crafted in the best interest of the defendant. If your criminal defense lawyer feels that you have a strong case or that your chances at a fair outcome are being unjustly sidestepped by a rushed plea, they might advise against agreeing to it.
Let’s look at why plea bargains exist to better understand their intended purpose in the criminal justice system.
Plea Bargains: A Brief Overview
One result of living in a nation of laws is that the criminal justice system is busy. People break the law every day, sometimes without realizing they’ve done so, without meaning any harm, and often unintentionally. If caught and subjected to criminal prosecution, the first thing you need is a criminal defense lawyer in Los Angeles.
The second thing you may need is to consider why a plea bargain might be coming your way and what it could mean for you.
The U.S. Federal and California court systems are extremely busy. Trials in some places are handled almost in the manner of a DMV “stand in line, wait your turn” manner, with the accused grouped together behind a public defender to have their cases heard one-by-one and decided upon by the judge. There’s quite a bit of justice to be dispensed on any given day.
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The Benefits of Plea Bargains
Plea bargains, in theory, work to the benefit of all parties. However, this doesn’t always work out in practice. When a plea deal is in the best interest of every party, it can make things go much more smoothly.
Benefits for the Prosecution
Prosecutors often have enormous caseloads. The quicker they get a case settled and off their desk, the better. However, it is also important for prosecutors to get convictions in order to keep their jobs and advance their careers. By reaching a plea deal with a defendant, a prosecutor can quickly settle the case with a conviction on the record.
The conviction might not be for the charge they originally brought against the defendant. However, in most cases, a win is a win.
Benefits for the Defense Lawyer
Reaching a deal that is to the benefit of their client is also a favorable outcome for a criminal defense attorney. When it comes to public defenders, a quick resolution is also favorable, as they have large caseloads, just like prosecutors.
Benefits for the Defendant
Reaching an agreement for a plea deal protects a defendant from a worst-case scenario. Not only can a deal mean a reduced jail or prison term (or no incarceration at all), but it can also have several other benefits. Depending on the original charge taking a plea deal could mean:
- Paying less in fines
- Avoiding a suspended license
- Avoiding registration as a sex offender
- Retaining your gun rights
- Avoiding a strike under California’s Three Strikes Law
Benefits for the Court
Like prosecutors and public defenders, the court system as a whole is overtaxed. Settling cases through plea bargaining keeps things moving along at a relatively fast clip in a court system bogged down by endless work.
As to whether this always works out well for the defendant, that much is debatable. But with a capable defense attorney in your corner, recognizing the difference between a good and a bad plea bargain is far more likely.
How Plea Bargains Typically Work
What’s important to know is that “plea bargain” is a general legal term covering four categories of prosecutorial deal-making. Based on the crime in question (and several other factors), one or none of these bargaining options may apply to your own situation:
- Charge Bargains
- Sentencing Bargains
- Count Bargains
- Fact Bargains
A charge bargain sees the prosecutor negotiating a lesser charge against a defendant who has agreed to a guilty plea. For instance, if your present charge is assault with a deadly weapon, the prosecutor might offer a charge of assault if you are willing to bypass the trial phase and plead guilty then and there.
This deal might make sense for the defendant, and it might not. A criminal defense lawyer may recommend you not take the deal if the key elements of the sentencing outcome are unlikely to change or if the evidence against you is not as strong as the prosecution claims.
Sentencing bargains are tricky because of their many moving parts. The prosecutor can commit to recommending a lighter sentence if the defendant agrees to plead guilty. However, that recommendation must be approved by a judge.
Unless the outcome is somehow guaranteed, and assuming the sentence is fair, your criminal defense lawyer might advise against you taking the deal.
With a count bargain, the prosecution offers to drop at least one (sometimes more than one) charge against a defendant faced with several criminal counts. One example might be a defendant charged with marijuana cultivation and intent to sell marijuana. If the defendant is willing to enter a guilty plea, the prosecutor might agree to drop one of the two.
They might even go as far as to drop whichever charge carries with it a harsher sentence. Again, this might be advisable for a defendant, but not necessarily. Legal counsel is necessary to determine as much.
Fact bargaining is an obscure form of plea bargaining that is rarely used and, in some jurisdictions, forbidden. In fact bargaining, a defendant agrees not to argue certain facts in exchange for the prosecution omitting others. Often the benefits of fact bargaining are not to the current case, but to prevent other repercussions.
For instance, a defendant in the middle of a custody battle might attempt to use fact bargaining to hide certain details of a crime they committed, which would look particularly damning in their fight for custody.
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Things to Keep in Mind When Considering a Plea Deal
It’s important to remember that plea bargains almost always stand to benefit the prosecution. Yes, there is good sense in reducing the strain on our country’s courts and keeping the justice system operating as efficiently as possible.
Plea bargains are a part of that process. However, they should only be agreed to by a defendant whose case has been reviewed by a criminal defense firm. In those instances where a plea bargain is mutually advantageous for both the prosecutor and the defendant, the bargain is worth considering very closely.
However, that is not always the case, even if it may seem that way when the bargain is first presented. If your criminal defense lawyer is at all skeptical of the deal being offered, it is almost certainly with good reason. If you find yourself in the defendant’s chair, there is a possibility you will be asked to consider a plea bargain.
Before agreeing to anything, you should contact a criminal defense attorney whose knowledge of how plea bargains work (and often work against the accused) can be of great help to you. A plea may be your best option, or it may close the door to a far more just verdict.
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Hiring a Criminal Defense Lawyer
When facing criminal charges, it is critical that you hire a criminal defense lawyer with a proven track record of securing favorable outcomes for their clients. At the Simmrin Law Group, we have helped countless clients both through the trial process and via plea bargaining.
Give us a call or fill out our online contact form to schedule a free case evaluation. A member of our legal team will review your case and advise you of all your options. Reach out to us today to get started.