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Better Understanding Plea Bargains

Better Understanding Plea Bargains

If you are facing a criminal charge – especially if it is a federal charge – you can expect a plea bargain to be part of the equation. Typically, the plea bargain process will begin long before your charge proceeds to trial, but this is not always the case, and it can begin any time before you are sentenced. While many defendants believe that plea bargains are frowned upon by the court system, this is not the case. Because a jury trial tends to involve considerable risk for both the prosecution and the accused, a plea bargain can benefit both sides.

Charge Bargains

When you think of a plea bargain, you are probably thinking of a charge bargain, which amounts to agreeing to plead guilty to a charge that is less hefty than the original charge you faced in order to avoid the risk of proceeding to a jury trial for the weightier offense. For example, if you are facing a second-degree murder charge and enter into a charge bargain for a manslaughter charge, the prosecution avoids the time, expense, effort, and uncertainty of taking the case to trial in exchange for a sure thing (your conviction on the manslaughter charge). You, on the other hand, are spared the stress and uncertainty of a trial in exchange for the certainty of more lenient punishment. In other words, a plea bargain in the form of a charge bargain can be a good idea, but this is not necessarily the case.

Sentencing Bargain

Another kind of plea bargain is a sentencing bargain – or a lower sentence proposal. In sentence bargaining, the only factor under consideration is the sentence you face for the charge as it stands. In other words, if you are facing a charge of aggravated battery (for example), the charge would remain intact, and you would plead guilty to the charge in exchange for a sentence that is less onerous than such a charge typically entails.

The Downside of Plea Bargains

While plea bargains are a sure thing in the sense that you know what you are getting into, the fact is that they can be highly coercive. Plea bargains provide the prosecution with a battering ram they can use to pressure defendants to admit guilt (that may not apply) and accept bad bargains in an effort to avoid excessively punitive measures that should not be in play in the first place. A defendant who is facing the possibility of an inordinately harsh sentence is often far more amenable to admitting guilt (even if he or she is not guilty) in an attempt to avoid such a fate. All of the following unsavory practices on the part of the prosecution tend to increase the chance that a defendant will accept a plea bargain that does not do him or her any favors:

  • Pretrial detention that keeps the defendant from his or her job, community, family, and support system while he or she awaits trial

  • Lax discovery rules that allow the prosecution to overlook evidence that tends to favor the accused during negotiations

  • Mandatory minimum sentences and sentence enhancements that the prosecution can use to pressure the accused to accept a plea bargain

A Florence criminal defense lawyer can help you make the informed decisions that are right for you.

Look to a Florence Criminal Defense Lawyer for the Guidance You Need

Brett Pritchard at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard – proudly serving Florence for more than two decades – is a formidable criminal lawyer who is committed to helping you achieve your most favorable case resolution. For more information, please do not wait to contact or call us at 254-501-4040 today.

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