When facing criminal charges, you might receive an offer for a plea bargain from the prosecution. In most cases, a plea bargain offers a lesser charge, which traditionally translates to a lighter sentence, in exchange for a guilty plea. Unfortunately, plea bargains are widely misunderstood. There are a few facts that you should understand before you agree to any plea deal.
The plea bargain process is complex
It often seems like a plea deal is a simple thing. After all, the prosecutor makes an offer, you accept it and it changes the case. However, plea bargains require negotiations about the charges, sentencing accommodations and more.
Plea deals do not always offer reduced charges
Although a reduced charge is common with a plea deal, it is not guaranteed in the plea bargaining process or in the final dispensation. Some plea bargains involve the prosecutor dropping certain charges while preserving others. Some plea agreements might also keep the initial charges as-is but call for a lighter sentence. Discuss the deal at length to be sure that you understand the offer before you consider it.
Plea deals do not always come with a guilty plea
Many people assume that plea deals require the defendant to plead guilty. In fact, many plea deals allow for a no-contest plea instead. This allows you to dispute your guilt while accepting the conviction as part of the agreement.
According to the American Bar Association, nearly 98% of U.S. criminal convictions result from a plea bargain, not litigation. The plea bargaining process has its nuances, and it is best to think carefully about each step before you make a decision.