When you think about criminal charges, your mind likely goes to the trial ahead, which is exactly where all those courtroom dramas on TV focus. The truth is, however, that the vast majority of cases involving criminal charges are settled outside of court – often with a plea bargain between the defense and prosecution. Better understanding the ins and outs of plea bargains can help you make better-informed decisions as your criminal charge moves forward through the criminal justice system.
If you are facing a criminal charge, Brett Pritchard at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard is an experienced Fort Hood criminal attorney who is committed to skillfully pursuing your case’s best possible resolution – whether that involves negotiating a plea bargain or not. We are here to help, so please do not wait to contact or call us at 254-501-4040 for more information today.
What Is a Plea Bargain?
A plea bargain amounts to an agreement that is hammered out between the accused (the defendant) – along with his or her experienced criminal attorney – and the prosecutor involved. The agreement itself involves the defendant pleading guilty or no contest to the charge in question in exchange for a benefit of some kind that is offered by the prosecution, including:
A reduction in the number of charges levied against you
A reduction in the severity of the charges you face
The recommendation of a reduced sentence to the judge in your case
The idea is to make admitting guilt to the crime preferable to taking one’s chances in court. Most criminal cases are resolved with plea bargains.
Why Are Plea Bargains So Common?
Plea bargains have something to offer both sides. The prosecution receives the benefit of a guaranteed guilty plea, and the accused avoids the stress and uncertainty of going to trial. Further, a plea bargain can shorten the legal process considerably and tends to be far less expensive than going to court. Ultimately, a plea bargain allows both sides the ability to maintain an element of control over the case’s outcome.
When Does the Bargaining Take Place?
You can enter into a plea bargain at almost any point in the criminal justice process. Sometimes, plea bargains are reached behind the scenes even after the trial has begun. At any time before your case comes to a close, plea bargaining typically remains an option. Further, it is basically never too soon to kickstart the plea bargain negotiations. In fact, some plea deals are reached prior to arrest but before criminal charges have even been filed.
The Primary Forms of Plea Bargaining
Most plea bargains can be classified as either sentence bargaining or charge bargaining – and, to a lesser degree, fact bargaining.
Sentence bargaining does not alter the charges brought but instead focuses on reducing the sentence the defendant will receive in exchange for pleading guilty or no contest to the original charges.
In charge bargaining, the actual charge is lessened. As such, the prosecution may decrease the charge levied against you and/or decrease the number of charges levied against you in exchange for you pleading guilty or no contest to the new charge. Facing a reduced charge can increase your chances of having it expunged from your record at a later date (if you meet specific requirements).
Fact bargaining, on the other hand, relates to bargaining about what version of events (the facts of the case) will be stipulated by both sides and presented to the court.
A Plea Bargain Is Not Necessarily the Best Path Forward
When plea bargains are obtained fairly and protect your legal rights, they can certainly be beneficial, but this does not mean a plea bargain is always in your best interest. The prosecution obviously has a lot of power on its side, and when it uses this power outside of the pounds of justice, plea bargains can become more coercive than anything else. Consider all of the following:
While you are in pretrial detention, you are separated from your family and support system, your job, and your community as you await trial, and this can leave you far more vulnerable to accepting a plea bargain (that may or may not be in your best interest) out of desperation.
Discovery rules are lax during the plea bargaining stage, which can tempt prosecutors to bury exculpatory evidence (evidence that favors you) as leverage during the plea bargaining process.
There are mandatory minimum sentencing requirements and enhancements that prosecutors are not averse to dangling over the heads of defendants like you (whether it is appropriate or not).
The prosecution is not bound by requirements of transparency during plea bargaining, which can make your plea bargain more like a gamble.
In other words, the plea bargain process represents its own maze of roadblocks and complications. A plea bargain should never be entered into lightly, and you are well-advised to work closely with a dedicated criminal attorney – throughout the legal process.
The Potential Benefits of Plea Bargains
When entered into fairly and when you know exactly what the implications of the plea bargain in question are, there can be significant benefits. As mentioned, you retain control over the process, you can bypass – or cut short – the lengthy and stressful journey toward court, and you could obtain a resolution that may be considerably better than it would be if you were ultimately convicted. The most important point to keep in mind is that obtaining a beneficial plea bargain is a complicated process that can end up doing more harm than good if you do not move forward with your eyes wide open, and having a practiced criminal attorney on your side is the best way to help ensure this happens.
Consult with an Accomplished Fort Hood Criminal Attorney Today
Brett Pritchard at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard in Fort Hood, Texas, is a trusted criminal attorney with the experience, drive, and legal savvy to help you obtain a just case resolution. For more information, please do not wait to contact or call us at 254-501-4040 today.