How Does a Plea Bargain Work?
In a criminal case, a plea bargain consists of an agreement between the prosecution and the defendant. The defendant agrees to plead guilty to a particular charge or charges. This agreement will mean that the case will not proceed to trial.
Three types of plea bargaining exist:
- Charge bargaining
- Count bargaining
- Sentence bargaining
Charge bargaining occurs when the defendant agrees to plead guilty to a lesser crime than the one originally brought. Count bargaining means that the defendant will plead guilty to a lesser number of charges than originally brought. For sentence bargaining, the defendant will plead guilty to a set of charges with the knowledge of a previously agreed sentence.
Legal Consequences of a Plea Bargain
Plea bargains are contracts between the prosecution and the defendant. Both sides of the contract much abide by the stipulations described in the document. Common terms of a plea bargain for the defendant include the defendant pleading guilty on a particular date, cooperation with the police or for the defendant to testify against another defendant. If the defendant fails to honor the plea bargain, the plea will be revoked and the original charges reinstated. If the prosecution fails to honor the plea bargain, the defense may ask for the agreement to be set aside or for the court to force the prosecution to honor the agreement.
A legal and valid plea agreement must have three essential components:
- A knowing waiver of rights.
- A voluntary waiver of rights.
- Facts and circumstances to support a defendant’s plea of guilty.
Before a defendant can legally plead guilty, he must understand all of the rights that he is waiving. These rights include the right to a jury of his peers, the right to cross-examine witnesses, and the right to not incriminate himself. Because of its serious nature, most plea agreements will be written and signed by both the defendant and the prosecution.
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Reasons for a Plea Bargain
The vast majority of criminal cases will end with a plea agreement. Both the defendant and the prosecution will have very valid and important reasons to enter into the agreement. The most common reasons include:
- Certainty of the outcome – with a plea agreement, both sides know and understand the end result
- Government is spared the cost and time involved in a trial
- Defendants can avoid a higher cost of trial
- Defendants will usually receive a less serious punishment under a plea agreement than with a trial
A plea bargain will hasten the end of the proceedings. If a specific sentence has not been agreed upon, the case will be continued to a sentencing hearing.
To discuss a particular case, contact attorney Mario Madrid at 713-877-9400.