The plea bargaining process

The plea bargaining process

Criminal cases are frequently resolved through the process of plea bargaining. In most cases, the prosecutor will offer one of several possible options in exchange for a defendant’s guilty plea. Following are the possible options a prosecutor may offer:

  • A reduction in charges.
  • A recommendation for a reduced sentence.
  • Dismissal of some charges.

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In the initial phases of a criminal case, a plea agreement may require a defendant to plead guilty to a criminal charge in exchange for a shorter prison sentence. These options should be weighed carefully because they may not be in a defendant’s best interest over the long-term.

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Accepting a plea bargain at an initial appearance

It is unusual for a criminal case to be resolved with a plea bargain at an initial appearance. There are several reasons for this. One is that in most places, a district judge or magistrate will not have the authority to accept a guilty plea for most felony or misdemeanor charges. In addition, the case will be at an early stage, and the facts of the case or possible defense options will not have been fully explored at this point.

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Accepting a plea bargain at the arraignment

Most often, the arraignment is where the plea bargaining will begin. In some cases, a defendant will accept a plea bargain at this stage because he or she cannot make bail. Another reason a plea bargain may be offered at the arrangement is because prosecutors may be under pressure to resolve cases quickly while avoiding a trial.

A defendant may feel pressure to accept a plea deal and should weigh his or her options carefully. On one hand, a guilty plea may mean an immediate release from custody on probation while a not-guilty plea might mean that the defendant will remain incarcerated until the trial.

Probation may result in more serious issues for a defendant in the future. Probation may come with requirements that a defendant will have trouble fulfilling. If the defendant does not meet his or her probation obligations, he or she may face severe penalties such as a prison sentence.

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