Understanding Plea Bargains And Considerations To Keep In Mind Before Signing A Deal

In the American legal system, as well as in several other nations that have inherited English common law systems, the plea bargain is an important component in the application of criminal justice. Its usage is widespread, and the plea bargain can benefit defendants who are facing possible sanctions as a result of an alleged crime. For individuals charged with a crime, a plea bargain may well be the ideal choice in their circumstances. However, before signing on the dotted line, defendants should understand all of the ramifications involved with plea bargaining and be sure that it is the best decision they can make. Below is more information about plea bargains and some considerations that defendants need to keep in mind:

What is a plea bargain?

Simply put, a plea bargain is a negotiated deal between a prosecuting authority and a defendant in lieu of a trial. The agreement specifies what type of penalty is incurred by the defendant in exchange for a plea of guilty. In addition, the deal must be approved by the presiding judge before it can be put into effect; this measure is designed to prevent unfair sentencing or taking advantage of a defendant's particular circumstances.

Plea bargaining is extremely common in criminal cases; in fact, about nine of every ten convictions are a result of a plea. This remarkable percentage demonstrates the popularity of plea bargaining, but it begs the question as to why it is such a popular alternative to settling a case by trial. Below are some reasons why defendants and prosecutors often favor a plea agreement over a trial:

Why do defendants choose to plea bargain?

There are several possible reasons why defendants might choose to make a plea bargain rather than take their case before a trial:

  • Certainty of the resolution - uncertainty is a powerful motivator, and defendants often prefer to accept a plea agreement instead of facing a full-blown courtroom trial where unexpected questions, confessions and evidence may appear. Not knowing what will happen can be scary, and the allure of pleading guilty in return for a fast, known resolution is appealing to many defendants.
  • Promise of reduced sentence – another powerful motivator for defendants is the belief they will receive a lighter sentence in return for pleading guilty. In most cases, a plea bargain will result in less prison time for defendants than if convicted at a trial. In fact, many defendants avoid prison time altogether by accepting a plea agreement and are instead sentenced to probation or suspended sentences.
  • Hasten the process - since jury trials are often scheduled months or even years in advance, some defendants prefer to speed the process along by accepting a plea bargain. This allows defendants to move past a difficult point in their lives and begin serving their sentences sooner rather than later.

Why do prosecutors prefer plea bargaining?

Defendants aren't the only ones interested in plea bargaining. Prosecutors also find a couple of distinct advantages in negotiating a deal:

  • Reduces heavy caseloads - in many jurisdictions, prosecutors are swamped with work, and plea bargains are the fastest means of reducing the sheer volume of cases. This not only benefits the prosecutor but it helps take pressure off the court system itself.
  • Increases conviction rates - most prosecutors, particularly those in elected or politically-appointed roles, are often reluctant to take cases in front of a jury. The fear of losing a jury trial often serves as a motivator for prosecutors who would rather take a sure conviction and arrive at a plea deal with defendants.

What should a defendant keep in mind before accepting a plea deal?

Even though plea bargains are the rule, rather than the exception, and they frequently are beneficial to defendants, there are several considerations that should be kept in mind before accepting a deal. Here are some important things that defendants should consider when mulling over a plea bargain:

  • Plea bargains are binding - in almost all cases, plea bargains are a non-revocable arrangement. That means there is no going back or opportunity to change for defendants to change their minds; for example, if evidence is discovered that might tend to exonerate a defendant after a deal is signed, there is still an almost-certain likelihood the conviction and sentence will stand.
  • Plea bargains waive your constitutional rights - by signing a plea bargain, the defendant is simultaneously forfeiting their right to a jury trial as well as their right to not incriminate themselves. These two constitutional rights shouldn't be treated lightly, for they offer the defendant powerful protections while maneuvering through a complex and sometimes hostile legal system.
  • Plea bargains may be in the best interest of the prosecutor but not the defendant - keep in mind that prosecutors are almost always going to attempt to negotiate a plea deal with defendants, regardless of other circumstances. Except in the most notorious of cases, a trial is something that prosecutors eagerly wish to avoid. Their enthusiasm for a plea bargain can be easily mistaken by defendants as a sign of leniency or goodwill; instead, their motives often lie elsewhere and may not be in your best interest.
  • Plea bargains require the assistance of a qualified defense attorney - defendants who attempt to negotiate a plea bargain without an attorney's guidance are in a weak position, and they may end up losing more in the end by not understanding their rights. A defense attorney will work diligently upon the part of the defendant to create a fair, reasonable deal for everyone involved.

For more information on plea bargains, get in touch with an attorney by visiting a law firm's website, such as http://www.csclarklaw.com.