Criminal Defense – Plea Bargains
In simple terms, a plea bargain is an agreement offered to a defendant that has been charged with a crime by a prosecuting attorney. If the defendant agrees to accept the terms of the offer, the defendant then pleads guilty to the crime they are charged with in exchange for a lesser charge or shorter sentence. Plea bargains drastically reduce the cost to governments by preventing the case from requiring a trial, thereby saving time and resources associated with criminal court.
In the United States there are far too many crimes committed that it would be unfeasible to hold a trial for each one. The system would become overloaded and as such, would likely fail. Therefore less severe penalties are offered in order to entice defendants to accept the plea bargain. However, when faced with a plea bargain, it is important to consider it carefully before accepting. A plea of guilty is permanent whereas a plea of not guilty can be revoked at any time during the legal proceedings.
Due to the nature of criminal activity, no case is exactly the same and as such, it is important to speak with an experienced attorney to determine the best course of action. There will be times when pleading not guilty can result in the avoidance of a criminal conviction. In such a case, it would be unwise to plead guilty. Furthermore, should you decide to take the plea bargain, an Albuquerque criminal defense lawyer can protect you by ensuring the offer is carried out as stated in the agreement. After all, it would be terrible to end up receiving a higher sentence than the agreement stated simply because you did not have a lawyer present.
The reasons for a criminal defendant to consider an agreement such as a plea bargain for a criminal case are many. Defendants are often given the opportunity to accept or reject a plea bargain given the overloaded system in America. Often times, trials last many weeks or months and a plea bargain can greatly expedite the number of cases passing through the court system. A number of benefits of plea bargains for defendants, prosecutors, and judges are detailed below:
Incentives of Accepting a Plea Bargain for the Defendant
The primary benefit to a defendant for accepting plea bargaining is the possibility of a lesser sentence or lighter charge than may be received in a losing court trial. Court cases are often unpredictable and as such, a plea bargain can add stability to the case for both the defense and the prosecution.
Cost Savings. A court case is often an expensive matter and by entering a plea bargain and accepting the terms, a defendant can save thousands of dollars on lawyer fees due to the amount of time that is required for a plea bargain compared to a court case.
Release from Jail. Depending on the crime committed, a defendant who has been held in custody and was unable to afford bail or did not have that option may be released immediately upon closure of the plea bargain by the judge. This could be anywhere from a complete release from jail, being placed on probation, and the possible addition of community service responsibilities. Another possibility is that the defendant may have still have to serve time but given the lesser sentence, will be out much sooner than had they went to trial.
Quick Resolution of the Matter. Being charged with a crime is undoubtedly stressful and by accepting a plea bargain the resolution of the matter is often resolved much faster than choosing to go to trial.
Maintaining a Better Record. As mentioned, often times a plea bargain will result in lesser sentence. As such, the acceptance of a plea bargain can result in a lesser number of charges and less serious offenses being attached to the criminal record. This is especially important in the cases when a defendant is convicted again in the future. An example of this would be the mandatory jail time for a second conviction for DUI. If the first DUI was negotiated down to reckless driving through a plea bargain, the second DUI would not result in mandatory time spent in prison.
There are also benefits of having a felony reduced to a misdemeanor for defendants who are never arrested again:
- With a felony, you may be required to forfeit some professional licenses.
- Employers are often wary of hiring a convicted felon.
- A felony conviction may be used against you in some other aspect of the law (i.e. civil cases) to attempt to discredit the felon.
- A felon cannot own a firearm.
- A felon forfeits their right to vote in many jurisdictions
Three Strikes Law. Many crimes have a three strikes law that results in mandatory prison time. By reducing a charge to one that doesn’t can be beneficial.
Less Stigma. Often a stigma is attached to many crimes and a plea bargain can reduce a more socially offensive crime to a lesser charge. An example of this would be a rape or molestation charge being reduced to an assault. This can lead to the preservation of relationships between the defendant and their family and friends. Furthermore, many stigmas associated with some crimes lead to danger (or death) for the defendant should they be required to serve time – a lesser charge may not.
Avoidance of Publicity. Often when a famous person or a person who has a good reputation in the community or does not wish to embarrass his or her family can opt for a plea bargain in order to prevent their names from being displayed in the public domain. However, a plea bargain can still be public but despite this, the news is often quicker to pass, especially when compared to the amount of news associated with a lengthy trial. Not only that, but during trial the defendant’s background is often closely examined – this is not often done during a plea bargain.
Taking the Blame. A plea bargain can be a great way to keep others out of the case. In the event that a plea bargain is accepted the case is often closed thereby ending the investigation against anyone else that may have been involved.
Benefits of Negotiating a Plea Bargain for Judges and Prosecutors
The main benefit to a judge for accepting a plea bargain is to expedite the number of cases being crossed off an often overburdened calendar. For the most part, a judge does not have time to take every case to trial. In addition, due to the crowded nature of jails today, should a criminal be convicted a judge may have no other choice but to release them depending on the nature of their crime. Therefore, a judge will often argue that plea bargains are an excellent way to avoid overcrowding problems by bypassing jail time for those who would not likely have spent much time in jail anyway.
Judges are not the only ones who must be concerned about crowded calendars. An overbooked calendar means longer work days for both the prosecutor and the staff. Plea bargains are easier on both the staff and the prosecutor’s budget due to their speedy nature.
If you would like to learn more information pertaining to plea bargains and criminal trials, your local criminal defense attorney is the best place to start.