Plea deals, also known as plea bargains, form an important part of the criminal justice system. If you find yourself facing criminal prosecution, the prosecutor may well offer you one through your attorney. But should you accept it?
FindLaw explains that. at their core, plea deals are exactly that: a quid pro quo agreement between the prosecution and the defense wherein one side agrees to do or refrain from doing something in exchange for the other side agreeing to do or refrain from doing something else.
Common plea deals
The most common plea deals are those for charge reductions and sentence reductions. In the former, the prosecutor dismisses the original charge(s) against you and instead charges you with one or more lesser crimes. You must then plead guilty to the lesser charge(s). In the latter, you must plead guilty to the original charge(s), but the prosecutor recommends to the judge that he or she impose a lighter than normal sentence.
Pros and cons
Accepting a plea deal saves you the time, expense and uncertainty of going before a jury in a full-blown trial. The down sides, however, can be quite serious, including the following:
- You must plead guilty to having committed a crime. If the crime is a felony, this makes you a convicted felon, a status that could haunt you for years, particularly when you apply for jobs.
- The judge has no obligation to follow the prosecutor’s sentencing recommendation. You may therefore find yourself serving a full sentence instead.
- You likely will have little chance of overturning your conviction on appeal since you plead guilty.
Before accepting any plea deal, make sure you understand exactly what you are agreeing to do or not do. Also, make sure you understand the likely consequences that will follow.