What is a plea bargain?

Many Silver Spring residents may believe that the only successful criminal defense is one that ends in a trial. However, they may not be aware that most successful criminal prosecutions end up with plea bargains, not trials. With that in mind, some might find themselves wondering: What is a plea bargain?

In a plea bargain, the prosecution usually agrees to lessen the defendant’s punishment and reduce the severity of the charges against the defendant in return for the accused pleading guilty to some or all of the charges against him or her. In some cases, the bargain might require the accused to do more than plead guilty. The defendant may, for example, agree to testify against other defendants in exchange for reduced charges.

Through the plea bargain, the prosecutor may make a recommendation to reduce the defendant’s sentence. The judge is not bound by the prosecutor’s recommendation, but can take it into consideration. A plea bargain serves as a contract-if either party breaks the plea bargain the other party can seek relief from the judge.

Why would anyone agree to plead guilty? Though many people are successfully able to fight allegations against them, many others may elect not to go through the criminal justice system. By accepting a plea bargain, a criminal defendant retains some control over the matter, receives a lesser penalty than may be doled out upon conviction at trial’s end, and can bring the matter to a close more quickly.

Everyone has the right to their day in court-it is up to the accused to determine if they want to even consider a plea bargain. An experienced criminal defense attorney may be able to help someone facing criminal charges examine their options.

Source: Legal Information Institute, “Plea bargain,” accessed on Dec. 22, 2015