A Guide to Understanding Plea Bargains
Facing criminal charges can be a daunting experience. It is easy to feel like your life is over. Unfortunately, it is true that a criminal conviction can have significant and life-altering consequences, both short-term and long-term. A criminal conviction can result in jail time, expensive fines, and even limit housing and employment options. However, a charge is not the same as a conviction. A charge is a starting point; a conviction is the ending point. A lot can happen in the middle, especially with the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney. While it may seem like your charges are set in stone, they are not. Charges can be reduced. For instance, a felony charge may be reduced for a lesser misdemeanor charge, which carries far lesser penalties and life implications. These reduced charges are generally made available as part of a plea bargain.
What is a Plea Bargain?
A plea bargain is essentially a bargain offered by the prosecution and agreed to by the defense. The prosecution may offer reduced charges and a lesser sentence to the defendant in exchange for a guilty or no-contest plea. It is important to understand that by accepting a plea bargain you completely bypass the criminal trial. A trial is intended to determine whether you are guilty, so there is no purpose for one when you elect to plead guilty. Pleading no contest similarly ends the process but unlike a guilty plea, a no contest plea does not admit guilt or innocence, it just asserts that you will not challenge the charges. Sacrificing your right to a trial by jury or judge is a big decision, so it is important to really weigh the benefits against the costs. In many cases, it may make sense to accept a plea bargain. For instance, where the stakes are very high and the outcome is uncertain. However, it is important to work with an experienced criminal defense attorney to ensure that you are getting the best deal possible and that accepting the plea is the best overall decision based on the unique facts and circumstances of your case.