When you’ve been arrested for a crime, the thought of going through the uncertainties of a trial can be terrifying. It isn’t unusual for defendants to at least consider a plea agreement of some sort — even if they ultimately reject the idea.
Understanding more about how plea deals work can help you make informed decisions about your future. There are three basic ways a plea deal can operate:
In fact bargaining, you’re still taking a case to trial — but you agree to admit to certain facts related to the crime so that the prosecution doesn’t have to prove them.
For the prosecution, this is helpful because they don’t have to spend extra time and effort proving that part of their case. It may benefit you if the evidence the prosecution would need to prove that fact could somehow cast you in a negative light in front of the jury.
For example, you may admit that you were in the area where a violent altercation took place — even if you deny you were involved in the fight — to keep the information that you were there selling drugs out of court.
This is probably the most common kind of plea deal you’ll see. In charge bargaining, a prosecutor agrees to lower the charges to something less serious (thus lowering any potential sentence) in exchange for a guilty plea.
This equals a “win” for the prosecution without ever going into trial. For you, it can mean the difference between something like voluntary and involuntary manslaughter.
Finally, sentence bargaining is also very common. If the prosecutor won’t lower the charges against you, they may be willing to exchange your guilty plea for a pre-determined sentence that is much less severe than the one you’d likely receive in court if you’re convicted at trial.
In essence, sentence bargaining is useful for defendants when the evidence is overwhelming, but the state wants to move the case along quickly or doesn’t want to take any chances in court.
Before you accept a plea deal, make sure that you fully understand your options — because you generally can’t change your mind afterward.