Thousands of criminal cases go through the United States criminal justice system every year. If you are a defendant in one of these cases, you have a few options when it comes to entering your plea. You could plead not guilty, proceeding to trial and hoping to successfully defend your case. You could plead guilty, thereby avoiding a trial but possibly receiving a harsh sentence.
There is a third option that you may not know about: You could enter a plea bargain.
Plea bargains are how the majority of criminal cases in the U.S. are resolved. If you are considering how to plead in your case, you should understand the basics of plea bargains and whether one could help you.
What is a plea bargain?
A plea bargain is when a defendant agrees to plead guilty to a lesser charge in exchange for a lighter sentence, or to have other charges against them dismissed. Some factors that influence the decision to take a plea bargain include the severity of the charges, the strength of the evidence and the probability of a guilty verdict if the case were to go to trial. Cases that resolve with plea bargains are generally faster, so the overburdened court system tends to encourage them.
Why take a plea bargain?
If you are considering what plea to enter, here are some reasons why you may want to enter into a plea bargain:
- By pleading guilty to a less serious crime than the one you were originally charged with, you may receive a lighter sentence.
- You could have some charges against you dismissed in exchange for pleading guilty to others.
- If the evidence against you is strong enough that you could be found guilty at trial, it may be wiser to accept a plea deal instead.
- Sentencing for plea bargains tends to be more lenient than sentencing for guilty verdicts.
- Trials are complex and taxing, and you may prefer the efficiency of entering into a plea bargain.