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Plea Bargains 101: How Plea Bargains Work And Why They Are Used

Posted by rafael on December 6, 2012 in Business

The U.S. court system has a backlog of pending cases so extensive that it threatens to bring the entire justice system to a grinding halt. At the same time, new cases are filed each day. Were each of these cases to reach trial, the courts would never be able to resolve all of them. One of the legal mechanisms used to reduce the load placed on the court system is plea bargaining. It can help ensure a case is resolved quickly rather than waiting months for it to go to trial.

A plea bargain is a deal offered by the prosecution to the defendant. The prosecutor’s goal is to induce the accused to plead guilty in return for a lighter sentence or lesser charge. For example, the defendant may be given an opportunity to plead guilty to a misdemeanor rather than risk going to trial on a felony charge. Both sides, the prosecution and the defense, have good reasons to consider such an agreement.

This article will describe the various types of plea bargaining used. You’ll learn what happens when the terms of the agreement are broken, and the reasons the prosecutor and defendant are best served upholding their ends of the bargain.

Different Types Of Plea Bargains

There are four types of plea bargaining. Charge bargaining is used to allow defendants to plead guilty to a lesser charge rather than face the initial charge brought against them.

Count bargaining is used when more than one charge has been brought against a defendant. He or she can plead guilty to a lesser number of charges.

Sentence bargaining is a promise to reduce the sentence for a charge if the defendant pleads guilty to it. It’s worth noting that the reduced sentence is left to the discretion of the judge, who can disregard it.

Lastly, with fact bargaining, the prosecutor agrees to present a charge in light of certain facts if the defendant pleads guilty. For example, suppose a defendant has been charged with drug possession, and that he or she has a prior conviction for the same offense. In exchange for a guilty plea, the prosecutor may agree to bring the current charge while stipulating the defendant has no prior record of drug possession.

When The Terms Of A Plea Bargain Are Violated

Any agreement reached between the prosecutor and defendant is a legally-binding contract. Both parties must meet the specified terms. The plea bargain will specify specific actions to be taken by both sides. For example, the defendant may be required to offer testimony in a related case. If he or she refuses or otherwise fails to do so, the agreement can be withdrawn.

Bargains Work

Bargains Work

The prosecutor is likewise required to comply with the details of the plea bargain. For instance, he or she might agree to drop certain charges in exchange for a guilty plea (i.e. count bargaining). If the prosecutor brings those charges against the defendant after the plea has been submitted, the defendant can ask the court to enforce compliance with the agreement.

Ultimately, if the terms of a plea bargain are violated, the contract itself is considered null and void.

Why Prosecutors Offer Plea Bargains To Defendants

Trials often require a substantial amount of time and resources. By offering a defendant a plea bargain, a prosecutor can obtain a conviction without having to invest in a lengthy trial. Resources can then be allocated to pursuing charges against other defendants.
Another incentive for prosecutors is that plea bargaining removes the uncertainty that accompanies a trial. Even is there is considerable evidence proving a defendant committed the offense he or she has been charged with, there is no guarantee of a conviction. A plea bargain provides such a guarantee.

Reasons A Defendant Might Accept A Plea Bargain

Defendants likewise have incentives for accepting plea bargains. First, they can save time and money that would otherwise be spent toward their defense. Second, they can usually receive a lighter sentence or face fewer charges. Third, entering into a plea bargain resolves the legal issue quickly, thereby helping the defendant get his or her life back on track sooner.

Oftentimes, defendants can avoid spending time in jail – or spend less time there – if they agree to plead guilty to the charges brought against them. They may be required to perform some type of community service, but doing so is usually preferable to serving a jail sentence.

To summarize, plea bargaining is a useful tool that benefits the court system, prosecutors, and defendants. It is privately conducted, and the details are made public only after an agreement has been reached.

The author writes about law related subjects with an emphasis on divorce topics, as well as all major law subjects. Check out other related topics on this site.

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