A plea bargain in California is a negotiation between the prosecutor and the defendant wherein the latter agrees that he will plead guilty in exchange for something that benefits him. These benefits can include:
- The dropping of one or multiple charges
- The reduction of the charge against the defendant to a less serious one
- The recommendation of some other specific sentence that the defendant agrees to in exchange for the plea
However, if you agree to a plea bargain, do you have to be concerned that the plea bargain will show up on your criminal record? Unfortunately, the answer to that question is “yes,” which is why you must seek legal advice from a qualified lawyer before you agree to a plea bargain.
Your Criminal Record
When you accept a plea bargain, you are pleading guilty to a charge. It may be a lesser charge, but you are pleading guilty, nonetheless. This results in a conviction, and a conviction can end up on your criminal record.
The point of a plea bargain is to end the case without the time, cost, and other resources that would have been devoted to a trial. From the prosecutor’s point of view, plea bargains are not for the defendant’s benefit. Instead, they are for the benefit of the courts and the prosecution.
When you take a plea, the prosecution and the courts are happy that they did not have to work as hard to put an end to the case. They are already overworked, and you are nothing more than an additional case to add to their full workload. So if they can finish up the case with as little work as possible, that is what they are going to do.
Do not make it easier for them unless a plea bargain will truly benefit you and your future. But how can you know for sure? Discussing its terms with a lawyer who has been through this before can give you the confidence you need to reject an offer that is not in your best interest.
A Plea Bargain Can Be Less Damaging to Your Criminal Record Than Conviction
Any time you are charged with a crime and face a trial and the possibility of conviction, the state will review your criminal record. The prosecutor’s review of your criminal history will play a role in determining the charges and penalties you face.
Your record will tell them whether each charge you face is a first or subsequent offense. This factor will play a significant role in determining your potential penalty. A plea on your record can look better than a conviction. In most cases, this is true because pleas generally involve lesser offenses and reduced charges.
Your past criminal record does not have to impact your current or future charges negatively. The criminal defense attorney representing you will explain the benefits and potential drawbacks of taking a plea and how it will look on your criminal record.
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What You Lose by Accepting a Plea Bargain
Accepting a plea bargain is not something that should be done lightly. If you agree to be convicted of a lesser charge, you could still lose certain rights you might have otherwise been able to enjoy if you were found innocent, like:
- The right to vote
- The right to travel out of the country
- The right to own a gun
- The right to participate in jury duty
- The right to enjoy certain parental benefits, like custody and visitation
You might also be denied certain employment opportunities or even public assistance upon being convicted of a crime. Therefore, we strongly advise that you speak with a lawyer skilled in criminal law who can help you determine whether a plea deal is the right way to go.
Right to Appeal
Here is something scary: if it turns out that you accepted a plea bargain that was not in your best interest, you may not even be able to appeal it. Prosecutors suggest to the judge the sentence they feel best fits the crime. However, the judge does not have to go with the prosecution’s suggestion and can order a sentence that is more or less harsh than the proposed one.
If you accept a plea bargain and the judge’s sentence is ultimately unfair, you may not be able to appeal it because you waived your right to a trial. But, unfortunately, this means that you also waived any opportunity to present evidence that would have otherwise proved your innocence – or at least would have lessened your guilt.
We have said it before, and we will say it again. You must be absolutely sure that a plea bargain is right for you before accepting it. A criminal defense lawyer is your best resource when determining what to do next.
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What You Can Gain from a Plea Bargain
From your perspective and your attorney’s, a plea bargain benefits you. By agreeing to take a plea versus enduring the time, expense, and uncertainty of a trial, you can:
- Face a lower charge than the one you are or were initially facing
- Receive a lighter sentence which could mean you spend less time incarcerated
- Be granted the possibility of parole where it otherwise may have been denied
- Resolve your case sooner rather than later
- Receive fewer negative marks on your criminal record and background checks
- Protect a loved one or potential co-defendant from prosecution
A plea agreement can also be less stigmatizing and allow you to avoid damaging publicity. If you are interested in striking a plea agreement with the state, you should consider letting a local attorney negotiate on your behalf. However, doing so on your own can be risky and may result in a plea deal that is less beneficial than your attorney might be able to obtain.
Circumstances That Might Cause You to Consider a Plea Bargain
If you maintain your innocence of the crime you are charged with, your lawyer can help you build a credible defense strategy and fight to prove you are not guilty. You may sometimes consider negotiating a plea agreement with the state and its prosecutors.
Circumstances that might lead you and your attorney to consider a plea include if:
- The state’s case is strong and is likely to result in a conviction
- You want to avoid a potentially lengthy jail or prison sentence
- You want to avoid a felony conviction in favor of a misdemeanor
- Building a defense strategy will be financially and emotionally costly
You will not have to make these difficult decisions on your own while simultaneously coping with the stress of potential conviction. When they negotiate on your behalf, your lawyer will explain the specific charges you face, the strength and details of the state’s case, and the likelihood of arranging a beneficial plea deal.
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Speak to a Criminal Defense Attorney Today if You are Considering a Plea Bargain
It may be tempting to accept a plea bargain. You may be enticed by the idea of finally getting some closure rather than worrying about what could happen if your case went to trial. But you should never take a plea bargain without seeking legal advice. You may think you are being offered a fair deal when it is nothing of the sort.
The prosecutor is not your friend. He wants to get away with working on your case for as little time as possible. He does not care how the plea deal he offers you will affect your future – but we do. Our criminal defense lawyers have seen it all before, and we are here to help you avoid making a mistake you cannot take back.
Give Simmrin Law Group a call or fill out the form to the right to be connected to one of our qualified professionals. You will receive a freeconsultation and are under no obligation to retain us. Let us review your case, discuss the possibilities of a plea bargain showing on your criminal record and give you the advice you need to make what is perhaps the most critical decision of your life.