The Pros and Cons of Plea Bargains

You have likely been exposed to at least the idea of a plea bargain through main stream media. Our society depicts plea bargains in movies as the “informants deal”. This idea, though applicable to informants, is a bit misleading. This blog is geared to help the reader understand what a plea bargain is and the pros and cons of taking a plea bargain. 
A plea bargain is an agreement set up between the plaintiff and the defendant in a criminal case to come to a resolution without ever taking it to trial. (Black’s Law Dictionary.) A plea bargain is the equivalent of a civil settlement agreement. Neither party gets exactly what they want- but the benefit of the bargain outweighs the burden, expense or risk of trial. 

 Plea bargaining results in defendants’ pleading guilty or nolo contendere (a plea in which the defendant does not contest the charges, but which carries the same primary consequences as a guilty plea) in return for a stated sentence, agreement not to request more than a certain sentence, or dropped charges.

A plea bargain can cover 4 main topics as discussed by Janet Portman in Criminal Defense Lawyer;

Charge bargaining; The defendant pleads to a crime that’s less serious than the original charge, or than the most serious of the charges. 

Example: The prosecution charges defendant with driving under the influence, but he pleads guilty to careless driving and the prosecution dismisses the driving under influence charge.

Count bargaining: The defendant pleads to only one or more of the original charges, and the prosecution dismisses the rest. 

Example: The prosecution charges defendant with both public intoxication and assault. The parties agree that dependent will plead to the assault charge, and that the prosecution will dismiss the public intoxication charge.

Sentence bargaining; The defendant takes a guilty or no contest plea after the parties agree what sentence the prosecution will recommend. 

Example: defendant agrees to plead guilty to the charge of misdemeanor resisting arrest, and the prosecution agrees to recommend that the judge not sentence him to jail time.

Fact bargaining; The defendant pleads guilty in exchange for the prosecutor’s stipulation that certain facts led to the conviction be omitted. The omitted facts would likely have increased the sentence because of sentencing guidelines. 

Example: The government files an indictment against defendant for drug trafficking. Federal agents caught him with over five kilograms of cocaine. Five kilograms triggers a sentence involving many years in prison, so defendant agrees to plead guilty to the offense in exchange for the prosecution’s stipulation that he possessed less than five kilograms.

Pros of taking a plea bargain

  • Not immediate risk of jail time
  • Less expense to the client
  • If SIS (Suspended imposition of sentence) plea bargain is completed no conviction on record 

Cons of taking a plea bargain

  • Still have to admit guilt 
  • Will be monitored by court and have to pay for probation
  • Required to fulfill terms of plea bargain or risk of going to jail
  • In the “system” for term of probation

A defendant who pleads guilty must admit guilt.  This person loses the chance to convince the trier of fact, be it a judge or jury, of his lack of guilt. It is the defendants sole right to accept or deny a plea bargain and your attorney should explain the terms of such plea bargain in complete and full detail. If you have questions do not be timid to ask- YOUR FUTURE DEPENDS ON IT!


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