What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Accepting a Plea Bargain?


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The prosecutor and the judge may prefer to dispose of cases through a plea bargain because doing so helps to manage case loads and reduce the number of cases that require a full trial. This helps to decrease the expense that the state will pay for this portion of the criminal justice system. Criminal defendants may also realize certain advantages by accepting a plea bargain. However, they must also be aware of the disadvantages.

Advantages

Here are a few of the advantages for criminal defendants who accept a plea bargain:

Lighter Sentence

Many criminal defendants accept a plea bargain agreement because the prosecutor offers a lighter sentence for a crime. This may result in significantly less time behind bars in the event that the individual was convicted of the crime after a full trial.

Reduced Charge

A criminal defendant may receive a reduced charge in exchange for accepting the plea deal. In some cases, this may result in the defendant pleading guilty to a misdemeanor instead of a felony. In other cases, the defendant may plead to a crime of a different class or degree. This reduced charge may result in different consequences. For example, a person may be eligible for certain jobs or to have their criminal record expunged under certain convictions than others.
Cost Savings

Criminal defendants who hire a private attorney will likely have to pay much more to have an attorney represent them through the entire trial. Accepting a plea agreement can help a criminal defendant dispose of the case more quickly to avoid the time and expense of a trial.

The Case Is Over

After you accept a plea agreement and appear before the court to plead, your case is virtually over. If you have been in jail because you were unable to bond out, you may be released if you have no jail time to serve or have a suspended sentence. It also helps remove the uncertainty of going to trial and not knowing what the outcome will be. This allows you to deal with the consequences now, rather than worry about them while your case is still pending.

Disadvantages

Before accepting a plea agreement, a criminal defendant should discuss the disadvantages of this decision with a criminal defense lawyer. Here are a few such potential disadvantages:

Avoiding Problems with Prosecution’s Case

Sometimes when a prosecutor offers a plea agreement, it is because he or she realizes that there are certain problems with the state’s case. For example, there may not be credible witnesses, forensic evidence may not be convincing or the defendant may appear sympathetic. By accepting a plea agreement, you may be accepting a conviction that the prosecution may not have been able to otherwise acquire based on its own case.

No “Not Guilty” Result

When a criminal defendant hears “not guilty,” he or she may feel a sense of vindication. In most cases, when a criminal defendant accepts a plea agreement, he or she agrees to plead guilty of a crime. In some cases the individual makes this decision because he or she was actually guilty of the crime, but in other cases, the individual makes the decision because he or she fears being found guilty and the likely consequences of that conviction. Once an individual pleads guilty, he or she cannot later go back and tell employers or others that he or she didn’t commit the crime because the conviction says otherwise.

Possibility of Coercion

Even if a criminal defendant has legal representation, he or she may feel tremendous pressure to accept a plea agreement. The prosecution may emphasize the maximum punishment possible. In such a manner, the prosecution may make innocent individuals accept a plea bargain.

Non-Binding on Court

Even if you reach an agreement with the prosecutor, the court is not bound to accept this agreement. The court must approve any such agreement. It will ask you whether you understand the terms of the agreement, the charges, your waiver of certain rights and the consequences of a plea agreement.

Criminal Record

If you proceed to trial, you have the chance of being acquitted and a criminal record never appearing on your criminal record. However, if you plead guilty as part of a plea bargain, you will have a blemish on your record, possibly for the rest of your life. You may not be able to have the conviction expunged. Even if you do have it expunged, there may be certain exceptions where certain individuals may still be able to access this information. Therefore, your decision can foreseeably follow you around for the rest of your life.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.

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