What Is the Role of Plea Bargaining in Criminal Cases?
Plea bargaining is when a defendant agrees to plead guilty in a criminal case in exchange for a reduced sentence or charge. Plea bargains allow defendants to avoid the lengthy and costly trial process. It also takes away the element of unpredictability. As a result, plea bargains have become a common practice in criminal cases.
According to the Bureau of Justice Assistance, many cases resolve with a plea bargain. Scholars estimate that 90 to 95 percent of cases end with a plea bargain.
The Role of Plea Bargaining
When defendants agree to plead guilty, they often receive a lighter sentence than the one they might face if convicted by a jury. In some cases, a prosecutor may agree to reduce the charges if the defendant agrees to plead guilty. For example, if someone is charged with murder, the prosecution may offer to reduce the charge to manslaughter.
Prosecutors are typically overworked, and the court system is clogged up with many cases. The use of plea bargains reduces the number of cases that need to go to trial. It also allows prosecutors to dispose of cases involving less serious crimes so that they can focus on more critical cases.
What Is Involved in a Plea Bargain?
Plea bargains may include various terms and conditions, which depend on the specific facts of the case and the agreement negotiated between the prosecution and the defense. Common plea bargain terms include:
- Guilty plea: One element of a plea bargain is the guilty plea by the defendant.
- Reduced charges: If the prosecution agrees to reduce the charge to a lesser one, the new charge will be clearly outlined in the plea-bargaining agreement.
- Sentencing agreement: If the prosecution agrees to a specific sentence, they will include it in the plea-bargaining agreement.
- Cooperation: In some cases, a plea-bargaining agreement will stipulate that the defendant will cooperate with the prosecution in other cases or investigations.
- Restitution: A defendant may agree to pay restitution to the victims of the crime, which can be included in the plea bargain agreement.
- Probation: The prosecution and defendant may agree that the defendant will serve probation instead of going to jail or in addition to their sentence.
- Treatment programs: If the crime was violent or involved drugs or alcohol, the prosecution may negotiate that the defendant must attend an anger management program or go to a drug or alcohol treatment program.
- Community service: Sometimes, the defendant might agree to perform a certain number of hours of community service instead of going to jail or in addition to their jail sentence.
The terms of a plea bargain can vary depending on the nature of the crime, the evidence the prosecution has against the defendant, and the negotiation skills of the defense team. Defendants are not required to accept a plea bargain if they do not think it is in their best interest. If a defendant accepts the plea bargain, a judge must review and approve it.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Plea Bargains
One of the main advantages of plea bargains is that they can save the state and defendant time and money because they do not need to go through a lengthy trial process. Another advantage is that defendants typically receive a lighter sentence than they would have if they were found guilty at trial. However, that is not always the case.
A disadvantage of plea bargains is that the negotiation skills of a defense team can make a substantial difference, which may lead to unequal treatment of defendants charged with similar crimes. Additionally, innocent defendants may feel pressure to plead guilty to avoid the risk of trial.
Contact Us Today
If you have been charged with a crime in Roanoke, Virginia, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney to represent you and negotiate on your behalf. Having a skilled defense attorney on your side can make a substantial difference in the penalties you face in your plea bargaining agreement. To improve your chances of reduced penalties, contact the experienced attorneys of Strickland, Diviney & Segura by calling us at (540) 982-7787 or by contacting us online.