Criminal Law

Can You Negotiate a Plea Deal?

Key Takeaways:

  • A plea agreement is a negotiated guilty plea in a criminal case.
  • The prosecutor and defense attorney can negotiate a plea deal, but it is up to the defendant to accept or reject the deal.
  • A plea deal can get a lower sentence, fewer charges, or a lesser charge.

After an arrest, you will face arraignment. In an arraignment, you will hear the judge read out the formal charges. The next step in your criminal case may be plea bargaining. This is where the prosecution and defense negotiate to agree on what charges a defendant will accept.

Many defendants let their public defender or criminal defense attorney handle plea negotiations without getting a second opinion. You may have a much better chance of fighting the charges than you know. You do not have to accept the plea deal your lawyer offers. If you want to know about your plea bargain options, talk to an experienced criminal defense attorney for legal advice.

What Is a Plea Deal?

plea deal is a negotiated agreement in a criminal case. The defendant and prosecution agree on how to settle the charges without a trial. There are benefits and drawbacks to plea bargains. For criminal defendants, accepting deals may reduce the risk of getting the maximum sentence. It may also be a way to get probation instead of going to jail.

The downside of taking the plea deal is that once you do it, you lose most of your rights to challenge the charges. You may no longer be able to get a jury trial, and it can be almost impossible to change your mind after pleading guilty. Unfortunately, many defendants just give in to the threats from the prosecutor. But if you are facing criminal charges, you may have a stronger case than you realize.

Public defenders and district attorneys are often overworked, understaffed, and have long backlogs. Plea bargaining reduces the maximum penalties, gets a conviction, and avoids a criminal trial, which is a win for the government. However, it may not be a win for you.

What Are the Types of Plea Offers?

Defendants may be offered ways to reduce their sentence or get a lower charge. Plea negotiation options generally involve:

  • Reducing the number of charges: For example, if you are facing three criminal charges, prosecutors may offer to drop two of the charges in exchange for accepting a plea to one charge.
  • Requesting a reduced sentence: If you are facing three to 10 years in jail, prosecutors may offer the minimum sentence in exchange for pleading guilty. If the judge accepts, you will receive a lighter sentence. In death penalty states, some plead guilty to first-degree murder and a sentence of life in prison to avoid execution.
  • Downgrading the offense: If a crime could be a misdemeanor or a felony, the prosecutor may agree to charge the offense as a misdemeanor. Pleading guilty to a lesser charge generally comes with reduced penalties.

What Are Plea Deal Strategies?

You and your defense lawyer can negotiate the offer to get better terms. Negotiations can go back and forth, with most of the work taking place in private without your direct participation. Ultimately, it is up to you to accept a plea bargain or not. Your lawyer cannot make you accept an offer.

It is important to remember that a plea bargain process requires compromise. If a prosecutor offers no jail in exchange for probation after a DUI and you want just community service, the prosecutor may withdraw the offer.

The Judge and Court Need To Approve the Deal

The judge generally has final approval of the plea bargain. The prosecutor will generally present the plea agreement to the judge, who may or may not accept the recommendation. The judge may accept the deal in part and reject the rest, such as refusing to impose the minimum sentence requested. That means you may receive a longer prison sentence than you thought. This is a risk you should be aware of.

Does a Plea Agreement Mean You Admit Guilt?

If you take the plea offer, you are admitting guilt. Pleading “no contest” has the same effect, and it will result in a conviction. After the judge accepts your plea, there will be no trial and you will be sentenced. You may end up with a permanent criminal record. Make sure you understand what is at stake before you agree to the deal. It may also be possible to negotiate a plea deal after a trial begins.

Plea Bargaining for a Diversion Program

A diversion program may be available for first-time offenders for minor, non-violent offenses. If you are eligible for diversion or other alternative sentencing, you may be able to avoid a criminal conviction and penalties. However, diversion generally requires accepting the deal, which means pleading guilty.

In a diversion program, you may have to enter a guilty plea to begin probation. There are several restrictions and requirements with diversion programs, which could include checking in with the court, random drug tests, and staying in school.

If you complete the program, the court may dismiss the charges. However, if you violate the terms of probation, the court can immediately sentence you to jail time because you already pleaded guilty as part of the agreement.

How Can a Criminal Defense Attorney Help Negotiate a Plea Deal?

The police and prosecutor may make it seem like you don’t have a choice, but you have constitutional rights. Don’t be pressured into accepting just any plea bargain. Your lawyer can negotiate to get a better agreement or go to trial and fight to clear your name in open court. If you want to know about your plea bargain options, talk to an experienced criminal defense lawyer for more information.

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