If you get tangled up in the criminal justice system, you may have a chance to negotiate there, too. In fact, 90 percent of criminal cases end in a plea bargain. A plea bargain is ”an arrangement between a prosecutor and a defendant whereby the defendant pleads guilty to a lesser charge in the expectation of leniency.”
But plea deals aren’t right for everyone.
Talk with an experienced criminal defense attorney to learn if a plea deal is a good solution for your case. Until then, learn more about plea bargains with the helpful guide our legal team put together to answer the most common questions about plea bargaining.
What is a plea bargain?
As mentioned before, a plea bargain is an agreement between the prosecution and the defense in a criminal case — a compromise.
In the case of a plea bargain, the defendant pleads guilty, usually to a lesser charge than the one he or she is currently facing. In exchange, the prosecuting attorney (referred to as solicitors in South Carolina) will offer the defendant one or more of the following:
- A lesser sentence
- Reduced charges
- Dismissed charges
Why are plea bargains used?
There are several benefits to using plea deals instead of taking every criminal case to trial. In many situations, plea bargains can be win-win situations for defendants, prosecutors and the courts. It can allow a person guilty of a crime to receive significantly less sentence than if he or she went to trial and was found guilty.
A plea deal may sound tempting to you as a defendant because you get to avoid several unpleasant possibilities for your future, such as:
- A long, drawn-out criminal trial, during which you might have to wait behind bars
- The risk of harsher punishment at the hands of a judge or jury
- The publicity of a trial in local newspapers and television channels
If a plea bargain is a negotiation, a full criminal trial is a gamble for your future. Are you willing to take the risk? If not, consult with a criminal defense attorney to discuss whether a plea deal is right for you.
Solicitors tend to prefer plea deals just as much as defendants do because they:
- Saves time compared to going to trial
- Less costly than a criminal trial
- Cuts down on solicitors’ caseloads
- Allows solicitors to focus more time and energy on high-profile cases
For Solicitors, plea bargains are a useful tool that enables them to resolve a larger number of cases in a shorter amount of time.
Trial courts appreciate plea bargains because, like solicitors, the court system is often overloaded with cases that are pending trial. For a criminal court to hold a trial for every single crime that’s committed within the court’s jurisdiction would increase the backlog of pending cases and those cases could take years to resolve.
The reasons the courts encourage plea deals are:
- The criminal justice system moves more efficiently
- There’s more room on the docket for other cases to go to trial
How do plea bargains work?
There are three basic steps to a plea bargain that apply to most situations.
1. The prosecuting attorney makes an offer to the defendant.
The solicitor may offer a number of compromises in an attempt to persuade you to accept the plea deal. Common plea bargain offers include the following:
- A lighter prison sentence
- Taking the death penalty off the table
- Dismissing other criminal charges that you’re also facing
- Allowing you to plead guilty to a lesser charge instead of a more serious one
2. The defendant and his or her defense attorney review and consider the offer.
If you’re facing charges and a solicitor or law enforcement officer offers you a deal, do not accept it right away. Take the time to review the plea deal with your defense lawyer to make sure it’s actually a good deal for your situation. Consulting with an attorney is a crucial step.
3. The defendant makes a decision regarding the plea deal.
After you and your lawyer discuss the plea deal, it’s time for you to make a decision. You have three paths forward at this point:
- Accept the plea deal
- Make a counteroffer
- Reject the plea deal
Making a counter offer prolongs the plea bargaining process. The solicitor then must decide whether to accept your counter offer or continue negotiations by presenting an alternative.
Rejecting the plea deal means your case will continue to trial and you forego all possible offers. When you go to trial, you accept the risk that your sentence might be harsher than the plea deal if the judge or jury finds you guilty of your charges.
Accepting the plea deal leads to a court date where a judge must approve your plea deal and put it on the official court record along with issuing your sentence.
Is a plea bargain a good choice?
A plea bargain could be a good choice for you… or not.
Defendants in criminal cases accept plea deals for a variety of reasons, but the decision comes down to the specific details of your case and what alternatives await you if you choose to go to trial. Common reasons for accepting plea deals include:
- Getting a more favorable sentence
- Having other charges dropped in exchange for pleading guilty to a different charge
Similarly, some defendants reject plea deal offers because they believe the State does not have a strong case and that the judge or jury in a criminal trial will agree with them.
Ready to bargain for your future? Talk to a lawyer today.
Plea bargaining is a legal strategy you want to discuss with your South Carolina defense attorney. Your lawyer has the experience to help you navigate this situation and seek the best possible outcome for your case. Be prepared to discuss the evidence against you and your goals for your legal defense plan during your legal consultation.
The legal team at Kent Collins Law is here to help you. To schedule a free in-person consultation, call 803-808-0905 today, or click here to send us an email.