Plea bargains are a useful legal tool, but they are not always crafted in the best interest of the defendant. If your criminal defense lawyer feels either 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 laws every day, often 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 & 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, as the accused are 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.
Plea bargains, in theory, work to the benefit of all parties:
- The prosecutor, who is looking to secure a verdict but does not have the time/resources to take every case through a complete trial.
- The defense, who is looking to do right by their client and might see a plea bargain as the best way of achieving that end.
- The defendant, who may well come away with a better deal than what a courtroom verdict might yield if they are tried before a judge.
These aspects aside, plea bargaining also 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 three 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:
- Sentencing Bargains
- Charge Bargains
- Count Bargains
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, but 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 your taking the deal.
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 might make sense for the defendant, and it might not. A criminal defense lawyer may recommend you not take the deal if the sentencing outcome is unlikely to change or if the evidence against you is not as strong as the prosecution claims.
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 both marijuana cultivation and intent to sell marijuana. If the defendant is willing to enter a guilty plea, the prosecutor might be willing 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.
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 in some way. Yes, there is good sense in reducing the strain on our country’s courts and in keeping the justice system operating as efficiently as possible. Plea bargains are a part of that process, but 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. But 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 have found yourself in the defendant’s chair, there is a possibility you will be asked to consider a plea bargain. Before agreeing to anything at all, 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 on a far more just verdict.