What Is A Plea Bargain In Criminal Law?

The majority of criminal cases never make it to trial. Instead, cases are routinely settled out of court as part of a series of negotiations that result in a plea bargain.

A plea bargain is a mutual agreement made between the defense and prosecution. Often, this requires the defendant to plead guilty to reduced charges in order to receive a lighter sentence. While plea bargains keep cases from going to trial, they are still an important part of the criminal justice system that acknowledge the strengths and weaknesses of both sides of a case.

What Is A Plea Bargain In Criminal Law?

What Purposes Do Plea Bargains Serve?

The criminal justice system is often overcrowded. Without plea bargains, courts would be inundated with trials and likely unable to keep up with the demand. Plea bargains help to move criminal cases along more quickly and prevent courts from being overwhelmed.

Trying a court case is time consuming, expensive, and draining for both the prosecution and defense. When both sides are routinely open to negotiating plea deals, they are able to quickly resolve the majority of cases while reserving costly resources for the most serious cases that actually need to be tried in court.

Although plea bargains are negotiated without a trial, they still play a significant role in the outcome of a criminal case. As such, only an experienced Bellevue criminal defense lawyer should negotiate the terms of a plea bargain. His or her expertise is required in order to reach a settlement that is as fair as possible for the suspect.

Are Plea Bargains Fair?

Certainly, there are benefits that the prosecution, defense, and courts receive when plea bargains are reached outside of court. But are these settlements fair?

Some legal professionals have questioned whether or not the plea bargaining system actually provides any justice. In fact, some states, like Alaska, have banned and reinstated plea bargains at various times in order to uphold the integrity of their criminal justice systems.

Although concerns exist as to the justness of plea bargains, they remain a significant player in the legal procedure of many states.

What Kinds of Plea Deals are Available?

There are routinely three types of plea bargains available to criminal defendants. These include:

  1. Charge bargaining
  2. Sentence bargaining
  3. Fact bargaining

Charge Bargaining

Charge bargaining is the most common of the three plea deals. In these agreements, the defendant pleads guilty to a lesser charge.

Sentence Bargaining

Sentence bargaining deals are not nearly as common as charge bargaining agreements. In some cases, the defense may negotiate a deal where they plead guilty to original charges in exchange for a reduced sentence. Most jurisdictions do not allow this type of plea deal. For those that do, sentence bargaining arrangements must be reviewed and approved by a judge.

Fact Bargaining

The least common of the three plea deals is fact bargaining arrangements. Very few circumstances call for fact bargaining deals where the defense will admit to certain facts in order to prevent other evidence from being entered into a case.

Whether a true reflection of justice in the legal system or not, plea bargains are an important consideration of any criminal case. Since they are often relied upon to resolve cases, criminal defendants should be aware of their options when it comes to settling their charges outside of court.