If you’ve been arrested, you may be stewing over whether to pursue a plea bargain or to take your case to trial. The latter can be tempting. However, if the prosecution has evidence against you, you may still be better off accepting a plea agreement, as it can be very difficult to predict how a jury will behave. In the end, it’s a good idea to speak with your attorney about your options. We will discuss the fundamentals of plea agreements in what follows.
Defining Our Terms
First, it would behoove us to define the term, plea agreement (or plea bargain). Generally speaking, when you accept a plea bargain, you agree to plead guilty in exchange for a few concessions on the part of the prosecution. For instance, the prosecutor might offer a reduced sentence or lesser charges, if you agree to enter a guilty plea. The prosecution may also attempt to sweeten the deal by asking you to testify in a trial involving another defendant. In such cases, they could significantly reduce your sentence. When you enter into such an agreement, you also waive certain rights, namely the right to appeal your conviction, the right to a trial by jury and the right to confront witnesses. You must waive these rights voluntarily in order for the plea bargain to be valid. Additionally, the prosecution must have a sufficient amount of evidence against you.
Types of Bargains
There are several different kinds of agreements that may be on the table. To begin with, prosecutors may approach you with a charge bargain, offering to pursue lesser charges in exchange for a guilty plea. Similarly, the prosecution team may pursue a sentence bargain. In this case, they would ask you to enter a plea of guilty in exchange for a lighter sentence. In a fact bargain, they may ask you to admit certain facts pertaining to your case, promising, in return, to omit other evidence. However, this last type of bargain is rather rare.
Plea bargains are essentially contracts between prosecutors and defendants, and as such, there are certain consequences for reneging on the terms and conditions. If, for instance, you break with the agreement, the prosecution may no longer be bound by the plea bargain and may pursue the most severe penalty. Similarly, if the prosecution chooses to seek a greater punishment than the one agreed upon, you may be entitled to withdraw your plea.
Different Rules in Different Jurisdictions
In the end, nearly 95 percent of all criminal cases end in plea agreements. For this reason, it’s a good idea to be prepared for negotiations. To that end, it’s important to know that each state has different regulations for plea agreements. For instance, every jurisdiction has its own rule regarding the role of judges in the plea-bargaining process. At the federal level, judges reserve the right to override the terms of the agreement. Federal judges are also prohibited from taking part in the negotiations. In some states, the judge may play a more direct role. It’s important to know the rules in your jurisdiction, so you may want to speak with your attorney about such matters.
Think Hard and Consult With Your Attorney
Moreover, it’s imperative to think through all the possibilities before agreeing to a plea bargain. Remember, you and your attorney have some leeway when it comes to negotiating the terms of these agreements, so before you accept the bargain, be sure that the offer on the table is actually beneficial to you. For instance, prosecutors may offer lesser charges, but in some states, mandatory minimum policies can attach weighty sentences to seemingly minor offences. Thus, what seems like a good deal may result in a severe penalty, which is precisely what you’re trying to avoid. Remember, things aren’t always what they seem, so it’s advisable to consider the long-term (or hidden) ramifications of any given plea agreement. It is therefore a good idea to speak with your attorney about all the angles.