Most criminal cases in the United States are settled using plea bargains. Plea bargains are agreements between a defendant and a prosecutor. In exchange for reduced charges or sentencing, the defendant agrees to plead guilty in a case.
The state has limited time and resources to investigate cases. Plea bargains allow them to save time and money, and they allow prosecutors to focus their energy on more severe cases. Many defendants choose to accept a plea bargain because they feel like they’re getting a deal and because they don’t want to go through the hassle or the expense of a trial. However, there are some critical things you should know before accepting any plea bargain.
You’ll Get A Criminal Record
A plea bargain will show up on your criminal record. Accepting a plea bargain means that you agree to admit to a crime and to whatever sentence you will receive. It is not the same as dropping charges. In exchange, the prosecutor will argue for lesser charges or, in some cases, a lighter sentence for the same charges.
You Lose Many Rights
By pleading guilty, you’ll also waive a lot of significant constitutional rights. You lose the right to a jury trial, the right to appeal, and the right to confront witnesses. You also lose the right to challenge any evidence the state has in your case. If you agree to a felony charge, you will lose many more rights.
If additional evidence comes to light after your plea bargain that would prove your innocence, you may not be able to use it because you’ve waived your rights. As part of the plea bargain process, the state requires that you agree that you understand that you’re losing these rights by accepting a plea deal.
You May Not Get One
Some states and jurisdictions ban the practice of plea bargaining because it circumvents the rights we just mentioned. Also, a prosecutor is under no obligation to offer a plea bargain. It is entirely at their discretion. Depending on the crime, it may be illegal for the prosecutor to offer one.
The Bargain Might Fail
The judge has the ultimate authority in choosing charges and sentences. The prosecutor argues the reasoning for the deal to the court, which means the court has the option of rejecting the deal. This is rare, but it does happen. Also, in some state courts and federal court judges have a freer hand in sentencing. They can choose to impose a different sentence without violating plea bargaining rules.
Before accepting any plea deal, it is in your interest to speak with a criminal defense lawyer. Once you accept a deal, it’s difficult to withdraw your plea. That’s why it’s so important to know what you’ll be giving up and what sentences you could face before you agree. A deal that looks good may not be as sweet as you think.