If you watch TV shows about the criminal justice system, you might think that every case ends up in a courtroom, with the prosecutor and defense attorney slugging it out in front of a jury. The truth is, more than 90% of criminal cases never go to trial.1 More often, the case ends with the defense and prosecution coming to an agreement to settle the case in an arrangement that is known as a plea bargain.
What is a Plea Bargain?
A plea bargain is an agreement in which the defendant agrees to plead guilty to one or more of the charges against him or her in exchange for the prosecution dropping the remaining charges, reducing the charges, or recommending the court give the defendant a lighter sentence. For example, it is common in driving under the influence (DUI) cases for the defendant to agree to plead guilty to reckless driving, which carries less severe penalties than a DUI conviction.
A plea bargain can also include the defendant pleading “nolo contendere,” or “no contest.” This means that the defendant is not admitting or denying the charge, but accepts a punishment because the evidence would be enough to convict on the charge.
Plea bargains can occur at any stage of the criminal process. Deals can be struck right after arraignment or as late as the moment the jury returns to the courtroom to give a verdict after deliberating.
Why is Plea Bargaining Allowed?
The plea bargain arrangement allows for quicker resolutions to criminal cases, and each side gets a result that is favorable. The defendant avoids getting a more severe punishment for the crimes for which he or she is charged, saving time and money in legal fees, court costs, and fines. The prosecutor saves face because the defendant will be punished in some way.
In addition, the court’s schedule becomes more manageable with fewer cases actually going to trial, thus saving time and money for the court system.
When to Accept a Plea Bargain?
Whether a plea bargain is a good deal for you depends on the circumstances of your case. Remember, the prosecution is not offering the deal out of kindness. They have an agenda, and the offer they give you is tailored to serve their interests, not yours. It might be true that the prosecutor does not feel that he or she has a strong case, but may be under pressure to get a conviction for a lesser crime.
Facing the possibility of jail is no doubt stressful, and it might be tempting just to accept the offer so that you can end your suffering and move on with your life. This is where having an experienced criminal defense attorney is critical. Your attorney can evaluate the evidence against you and determine whether the evidence supports the charges. Your attorney can advise you on whether the plea deal can be improved, or whether taking the case to trial is a better idea.
Keep in mind: A guilty or no contest plea is considered establishment of your guilt, and the conviction will go on your criminal record. You may lose certain rights or privileges, such as the right to vote, or to own firearms. You may also lose your right to appeal by entering into a plea bargain.
However, an experienced attorney may be able to negotiate a plea bargain that allows you to seal or expunge your criminal record at the conclusion of your probation period. When filling out an application for a job or apartment, you will not be required to disclose the arrest or conviction in most cases.2
Contact the Defense Attorneys at Wallin & Klarich
If you or a loved one has been charged with a crime, an experienced criminal defense attorney can guide you through your options and help you decide whether it is better to accept a plea deal or take your case to trial. At Wallin & Klarich, our attorneys have been successfully defending clients in criminal cases for more than 30 years. Let us help you, too.
With offices in Los Angeles, Sherman Oaks, Torrance, Tustin, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, West Covina and Victorville, there is an experienced Wallin & Klarich attorney near you no matter where you work or live.
Call us today at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (877) 466-5245 for a free phone consultation. We will be there when you call.