What You Should Know About Plea Bargains
Most criminal cases are settled via the plea bargain process. The plea bargain is an agreement reached between the prosecutor and the defendant during a case in which the defendant agrees to plead guilty or no contest to the charges in exchange for a lighter sentence or lesser charges. While there are a number of good reasons for both sides to consider entering into a plea bargain, the more informed you are on the process, the better equipped you will be to make a decision on whether to accept or reject a plea bargain offered to you.
Why Prosecutors Offer Plea Bargains
There are a number of reasons why it makes sense for a prosecutor to offer a plea bargain in most cases. The biggest reason is that the current burden on the justice system leads to more cases that need adjudicating than the system can handle in a timely fashion. Prosecutors are motivated to offer plea bargains in order to speed up the process of wrapping up a case and clearing out their workload.
Additionally, a prosecutor can never be certain of the outcome of a trial. There are any number of ways that an otherwise open and shut case can take an unexpected turn during trial, or a jury may return an unexpected verdict. To ensure that the case reaches a conclusion the prosecution is willing to accept, they may offer a plea bargain.
Why a Defendant May Accept a Plea Bargain
The uncertainty that the prosecution faces at trial is true for defendants as well. A defendant unwilling to accept the uncertainty of a jury trial may opt to accept a plea bargain that offers the certainty of what the conviction will be, and the sentence that will be imposed.
In lesser cases, the prospect of waiting weeks or months to wrap up the case may be less desirable than simply accepting a plea bargain and putting the matter behind them. This may be especially true if the defendant is fairly certain that they will be convicted on at least one of the charges against them, regardless of how innocent they may believe themselves to be.
In order to reach an agreement, the prosecution is forced to offer a lighter sentence or a lesser charge than they might otherwise receive. For a defendant, it makes sense to try and get the lightest sentence possible, but in many cases a reduction in charges may be even more enticing than the lighter sentence. A felony conviction can carry long-lasting effects beyond just the immediate sentence. The right to vote, the right to own a firearm, and even the ability to be employed at certain jobs can be cut off by a felony conviction. By accepting a plea bargain to a lesser charge, the defendant avoids those consequences and can more easily get on with his or her life.
Accepting a plea bargain may not always be in your best interest, but in most cases, it will result in a better outcome than going to trial. Your Houston criminal lawyer will advise you on the best course of action, and with this information in hand, you will make a better decision on whether or not to accept the plea bargain.