If you watch a television crime drama such as Law and Order, you might conclude that every criminal case ends up going to trial. The fact is more than 90 percent of criminal cases never go to trial. Instead of prosecutors and defense lawyers slugging it out in front of a jury, both sides to a criminal case work to reach a settlement that appeals to both parties.
The result of many backroom settlements is called a plea bargain.
What is a Plea Bargain?
A plea bargain in a legal maneuver that allows a defendant to plead guilty to one or more criminal charges in exchange for the prosecutor to either drop the remaining charges, reduce the severity of all charges, and/or recommend the judge hand down a more lenient sentence. A good example of a plea bargain applies to driving under the influence (DUI) cases. A criminal defense attorney might ask the court to allow a client to plead guilty to a reckless driving charge instead of pleading guilty to the more serious DUI charge.
A defendant can accept a plea bargain by pleading nolo contendere, which is the Latin phrase for no contest. A no contest plea bargain means a defendant does not admit or deny a criminal charge, but instead, the defendant accepts the punishment because there is enough evidence to get a conviction. Agreeing to a plea bargain can happen at any stage of the criminal trial process.
When Should a Defendant Accept a Please Bargain?
Deciding whether a defendant should request a plea bargain depends on the unique circumstances surrounding the criminal case. Maybe the prosecution does not have enough evidence or it is unlikely the prosecution team can convince the jury that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Prosecutors do not offer plea bargains because of kindness. They operate on an agenda that might not be a positive thing for a defendant’s criminal case.
Three factors should determine whether you should ask for a plea bargain.
- Legal advice from an attorney
- Answering the question Is the plea actually a bargain
- Answering the question Is the plea bargain in your best interest
The last factor should partly come from the advice of your criminal defense lawyer, who spends time reviewing your case to determine the best course of legal action. Remember there are several negative consequences to having a criminal conviction on your record. First, you might experience difficulty landing a job. Second, most property managers vet prospective tenants by running a criminal background check. Third, you have to jump through many legal hoops while you are on probation.
A plea bargain also prevents you from appealing any of the legal issues surrounding your case. If you plead guilty or no contest, then you do not have the opportunity to have your case heard in front of a jury of your peers. You might receive an unfair sentence that you cannot appeal as well. Although judges often accept the recommendation of a prosecutor when it comes to sentencing, it is not a sure thing that the judge presiding over your case will take the sentencing advice of the prosecutor.
Take care of the first factor by contacting an experienced criminal defense attorney. California criminal defense lawyer Dan E. Chambers will schedule a free initial consultation in which the issue of a plea bargain will be discussed. The ultimate goal is for you to walk out of a courtroom, without a criminal record attached to your name. You should ask for a plea bargain only if your criminal defense attorney says it is a good idea.
Schedule a free initial consultation by calling the Chambers Law Firm at 714-760-4088.