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How Do Plea Bargains Work?

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How Do Plea Bargains Work?

April 18, 2017


The solution to most criminal cases occurs through plea bargains and guilty pleas. This is when a suspect agrees to admit to the commission of a specific crime, and the prosecution agrees to drop some of the charges against the suspect. Alternatively, the prosecution agrees to offer a more lenient sentence than that which the suspect would confront if he or she lost at trial.

A plea bargain is an agreement between the prosecution and the defense attorney for the suspect in which each party relinquishes something, and each party receives something in return. The prosecution gives up its right to take a case to trial, and in return, it will obtain a conviction against the defendant, who agrees to enter a guilty plea, and waives the right to a jury trial. The defendant then receives some leniency or sympathetic treatment from the prosecution.

There are usually two areas in which the prosecution can offer to be lenient toward the defendant:

  • The prosecution may allow a defendant to plead guilty to a less serious crime or it may propose to drop some charges, and/or
  • The prosecution may suggest that the defendant receive a less stringent sentence than the one the defendant would likely have received if he or she proceeded to trial, and was convicted by a jury.

For instance, consider the case of a defendant who was arrested and charged with drug trafficking and distribution. In return for entering a guilty plea, the prosecution could make the following offer to a defendant:

  • The opportunity to enter a guilty plea to drug possession, which is generally a far less serious crime than trafficking or distribution
  • To drop the trafficking charge for one drug in exchange for a guilty plea on the charge for another drug

To agree to make a request of the court, at sentencing, that the defendant receive probation in lieu of being placed in jail. Plea bargains must be approved by the court. A judge has to speak to the defendant in person and in open court to make certain that the plea is voluntary and is not the result of duress, threats, or promises that are not part of the plea agreement.


If you were arrested and are facing conviction for a crime, call the criminal defense attorneys at Rudnick, Addonizio, Pappa & Casazza P.C.

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