What exactly is a plea bargain?
A plea bargain is a very common way to dispose of criminal matters. The prosecuting agency will review your case and make your defense attorney an offer. Oftentimes, these offers will be less than the maximum sentence that may be imposed upon you for your charged offense, and in some instances, the prosecutor may even offer you probation. In exchange for this deal that they have offered, you will plead guilty to the offense and close out your case. A plea bargain’s biggest benefit is that you know the exact terms of the punishment you are receiving and will not be surprised by anything else. In order to take a plea bargain agreement and know exactly what you’re getting yourself into, you do lose certain rights.
In any criminal case, you are presumed innocent until proven guilty. By entering into a plea bargain agreement, you are giving up your right to make the government prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that you are guilty of committing the crime you are charged with. You give up your right to a trial, your right to confront witnesses that the government may bring against you and your right to bring your own witnesses to help with your defense. By taking a plea bargain agreement, you are also giving up your right to appeal, which means that once you enter your plea and the judge sentences you, there is no going back. There are very limited circumstances in which you may be able to reopen your case, but generally speaking, once you accept the plea offer, the case is closed for good. However, if for some reason you and the government enter into an agreement and the presiding judge decides that he/she does not want to allow you to move forward with the deal, you may withdraw your plea.
If for whatever reason, you, your defense attorney and the government can’t come to any type of agreement, you also have the option of going to trial. A trial allows you to be judged by a jury of your peers, and by proceeding to trial, you are making the government prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that you did what they are accusing you of doing. When you go to trial on a criminal charge, you are also allowed to raise your own defense and bring witnesses and evidence in support of your innocence. If a jury finds you innocent, all the charges against you are dropped and you have the right to expunge all records relating to your arrest and the criminal case removed from your record. However, there is always a risk associated with trial. If you are found guilty, a judge or jury can sentence you anywhere up to the maximum punishment allowed by the law for your charged offense. Unlike plea bargain agreements, you have no idea what the jury is going to do so you’re rolling the dice by going to trial. Juries can be unpredictable and even attorneys with decades of experience will not be able to guarantee a certain outcome at trial no matter how great the facts of the case are for the defense. Because of the unpredictable nature of trials, you can appeal the verdict once the trial concludes.
There are pros and cons associated both with plea bargain agreements and trials. Determining which manner of disposition is best in your case will depend on numerous factors, as no two cases are the same. It is important to speak with a seasoned criminal defense attorney about the specific facts of your case and to understand all the advantages and disadvantages associated with each method of disposition before deciding which one is best for you.
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