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What is negotiable when plea bargaining?

You’ve probably seen numerous examples of plea bargaining on shows like Law & Order. The real-life process typically isn’t as dramatic as depicted on television. However, when it’s your future on the line, it can feel that way. 

The prosecution and defense know their goals and how much they’re willing to give in or give up when they come to the negotiation table. Defense attorneys want to minimize the impact a potential conviction might have on their clients’ lives. Prosecutors want to minimize their investment of time and expense in trying a case. They also reduce the uncertainty of the outcome that comes with trying a case while still making sure that a defendant pays in some way for their alleged actions.

Not all plea bargains focus on the same elements. Let’s look at two common factors around which plea bargaining can center.

Plea negotiations hone in on criminal charges

This is the most common. Defendants usually agree to plead guilty to a less serious crime than the one prosecutors have charged them with. Defendants may benefit greatly from prosecutors allowing them to plead guilty to lesser charges, such as misdemeanor instead of felony ones.

Defendants may lock in a reduced sentence by plea bargaining

A defendant may agree to plead guilty to the crime they’re charged with, but on the condition that they’ll get a lighter punishment by doing so. Many defendants do this in hopes that a judge will only sentence them to probation, home confinement or impose a reduced jail sentence. Prosecutors may even agree that the “time served” is enough if a defendant has already served some time in jail.

While it may seem like the prosecutors hold all the cards, they can only recommend a plea deal to a judge once they’ve reached once with you. The judge doesn’t have to accept it, although they do in most cases.

Is a plea deal the best option in your case?

Plea bargaining isn’t right for every case. Most innocent people want their day in court to present their defense and have prosecutors try and prove their case. Defendants often pursue plea deals to mitigate the consequences of their actions on the rest of their lives instead of leaving their fate in the hands of a jury. Only you can decide whether a plea deal is in your best interest in your case.