If you’re facing criminal charges, you may wonder what your options are. You might have heard the term plea bargain before, and you may wonder if this option is right for you.
Plea bargains put an end to many criminal court cases, eliminating the need to go to trial. It is important for you to understand what benefits a plea bargain offers, as well as the potential risks you take by accepting one.
How do plea bargains benefit you?
A plea bargain is an agreement between the defendant and the prosecution. In these bargains, you as the defendant agree to plead guilty to some or all of the charges you are up against. In return, the prosecution makes concessions. In most cases, the prosecution makes a significant reduction to the penalty you face. They may also reduce your charges, making them less severe. Prosecution may even promise to recommend reduced sentences.
In some plea bargains, you may only need to plead guilty. In others, you may be required to testify against someone else. The reduction of your charge severity and sentencing are the biggest boons of this option.
A main reason to consider entering into a plea agreement is that it brings certain safeguards about the outcome of the case compared to proceeding to the unknown of jury trial
What are the risks?
The biggest issue with plea bargaining comes in when the defendant is not guilty. In other words, you are innocent but feel pressured into admitting guilt to avoid a heftier sentence. You may avoid a longer stay in prison, but in exchange you waive three rights protected by the Fifth and Sixth Amendments. These include your right to a jury trial, your right against self-incrimination and your right to confront witnesses.
The guilty verdict will also go on your criminal record, which can impact you long after you get out of jail. You might find it hard to get a job or even find housing.
In the end, you must weigh the pros and cons yourself to see which is worth more. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you to understand whether accepting a plea bargain makes sense for your case – as well as your likelihood of securing an acquittal, if your case were to go to trial.