If you’ve been wrongly charged with a crime, you’ll certainly want to clear your name – either by having the charges against you dropped or by succeeding in court. However, if you bear some culpability, your best option under the circumstances may involve reaching a plea deal with the prosecutor that will mitigate the consequences you’ll face as a result of your alleged wrongdoing.
Prosecutors don’t have the time or the resources to take every case to trial. As a result, they’re often willing to negotiate with a defendant and their attorney rather than try each case in front of a jury.
The process used to arrive at a plea deal is known as “plea bargaining.” You’ve likely seen this process play out on the various Law & Order shows. It’s typically not as dramatic as it’s portrayed. However, these scenes do depict what kinds of issues are negotiable when a criminal defense attorney and a prosecutor attempt to strike a deal.
A defendant may offer to plead guilty to a lesser offense than the one they’ve been charged with. This can mean the difference between a serious charge like a felony that can result in serious consequences for their future and a misdemeanor. It could mean pleading guilty to a less-stigmatized offense than the one they’re facing.
Usually, if a charge is negotiated down, the potential sentencing terms will be less serious than they otherwise might be. However, even if the charge isn’t reduced, a defendant may be able to negotiate the sentence prosecutors will seek. They may agree to a shorter sentence, “house arrest,” probation, community service or other options.
Reaching a plea agreement is a big step, but not the final one. A judge is required to sign off on it. Typically, they do – but not always. No matter how many times you’ve seen the negotiation process play out on TV, you should never try to plea bargain on your own. This is just one area of your case where having experienced legal guidance can make a significant difference to its ultimate outcome.