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What is a plea negotiation?

There are many components to a criminal court case. First, someone must be charged with a specific criminal act. Then, as the process moves forward, many other elements may come into play such as a pre-trial hearing, the act of discovery, settling jurisdiction and selecting a jury. Another potential aspect of a criminal court case is plea negotiation. But, what is a plea negotiation and how is it used during the court process?

Plea negotiations are very common in the criminal justice system and can take place before or during a court trial. A plea negotiation is basically an agreement between the prosecution and defense that resolves the charges that the defendant is facing. Usually, the defendant will agree to plead guilty to a lesser charge than the one initially charged, or perhaps the defendant will plead guilty to only one charge, if they were facing multiple charges. In return for agreeing to this, the prosecution may recommend a lesser punishment for the charge or may ask the judge for leniency for the defendant. Plea negotiation is considered a very practical component of both criminal prosecution and criminal defense.

There are several benefits to plea negotiation. It can help the defendant because they can avoid the unwanted publicity of a trial as well as the risk of stronger punishment. It helps the prosecution because they are able to avoid both the expense and the time involved in a criminal trial. Additional benefits include avoiding the uncertainty of a trial and overloading the court system with additional cases.

Most plea negotiations must be approved by a court before they can go into effect. However, any Maryland resident who is facing criminal charges may want to speak with a criminal defense attorney to determine if a plea negotiation should be considered in their case.

Source:, "How Courts Work," Accessed March 5, 2016

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