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What is a Plea Agreement?

In the United States, the many criminal cases never go to trial, which is either due to the prosecution dropping the charges or the case ending with a plea agreement. According to the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, over 90 percent of criminal convictions are the result of a plea agreement. But what is a plea agreement, and what should those facing criminal charges know before agreeing to one? If you have questions regarding criminal charges or a plea agreement, contact the criminal defense lawyers at The Forrester Law Firm today at (609) 613-1513 to learn more about your options and legal rights.

The Basics of a Plea Agreement

A plea agreement, also known as a plea bargain, is an agreement between the prosecution and the defendant in a criminal case. In exchange for a guilty plea from the defendant, the prosecution agrees to certain concessions regarding sentencing or charges. For example, the prosecution could agree to drop certain charges and recommend a reduced sentence if the defendant agrees to plead guilty to other charges he or she is facing.

In some cases, pleading guilty may not be the only requirement of a plea agreement. Prosecutors may also ask the defendant to act as a witness for the state by testifying in a criminal case involving other defendants.

What Is a Plea Agreement to the Prosecution?

Prosecutors offer plea agreements for several different reasons, which may or may not be in the defendant’s best interests. Some of the most common reasons a prosecutor might offer a plea bargain include:

  • Avoiding trial—Trials are time-consuming and expensive. Additionally, the court systems in many jurisdictions are overflowing with cases. Plea bargains can help prosecutors save time and money by wrapping up a case without going to trial.
  • Weak evidence—In some cases, the state may offer a plea bargain because they have doubts that they can get a conviction if the case goes to trial due to insufficient evidence.
  • Increasing conviction rates—A plea bargain guarantees a conviction for the prosecution while taking the case to trial risks losing the case.

In some cases, the prosecution may offer a plea agreement if they believe the defense is likely to win. In others, the plea agreement might be the defendant’s best option.

What to Consider When Offered a Plea Agreement

When someone who is facing criminal charges is offered a plea bargain, there are a few things the defendant needs to consider. Each criminal case involves unique circumstances, and defendants should never agree to a plea agreement without seriously considering their options, and they might consider consulting with a criminal defense lawyer.

What Does the Criminal Defense Lawyer Think?

Speaking with an attorney is important to consider for any person who has been offered a plea agreement in relation to a criminal charge. An experienced criminal defense lawyer from The Forrester Law Firm can help to analyze the case and help a person understand all of their legal options. In most cases, a criminal defense attorney will give their professional opinion regarding whether the plea deal is appropriate for the circumstances.

Can a Lawyer Negotiate a Better Deal?

A plea agreement is a negotiation, which means that the initial offer may not always be the best one. The prosecution’s first offer may be one that they hope the defendant will immediately accept. However, a knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer may be able to negotiate a better deal. Both sides may exchange a few different offers before the prosecutor and the defense arrive at a final plea agreement.

In many plea agreements, especially for misdemeanors like DUI, the prosecution may recommend probation instead of jail time. If the case involves felony charges with heavier sentences, the defendant might consider accepting the plea agreement even if he or she is innocent.

Is the Plea Agreement in the Defendant’s Best Interests?

As previously mentioned, some plea agreements are not in the defendant’s best interests. The prosecution may offer the deal to get the case through the system faster and lighten their caseload or because they believe there is a significant chance that the defendant will be found not guilty at trial. Defendants should remember that prosecutors are not their friends and are generally not looking out for their best interests. A criminal defense lawyer, however, can be trusted to help a defendant understand all of their legal options.

Criminal defense lawyers can help defendants weigh the pros and cons of accepting a plea agreement. If the lawyer analyzes the case and determines that a conviction will be likely at trial, a plea bargain can be a form of damage control. For example, if the agreement reduces felony charges to misdemeanors, accepting the deal could help the defendant avoid the difficulties associated with a felony conviction, such as finding employment. However, if the defense attorney believes they have a good chance of winning at trial, he or she might recommend that the defendant decline the plea agreement.

Do Innocent Defendants Accept Plea Agreements?

While a plea agreement does involve pleading guilty to a crime, many innocent defendants accept plea agreements. This decision is sometimes based on fear, as the penalties of going to trial and losing are much more severe than a plea agreement sentence. In some cases, the prosecution may recommend probation as part of a plea agreement but seek a lengthy prison sentence if the case goes to trial. Therefore, some defendants choose to accept the plea agreement to avoid the risk of prison time, even if they are innocent.

How a Criminal Defense Lawyer Can Help

All defendants in criminal cases are guaranteed the right to counsel according to the US Constitution. Anyone who has been charged with a crime should consider seeking guidance from a criminal defense attorney to have their legal questions answered’

Do you have questions? Are you asking yourself, “What is a plea agreement?” and, “Should I accept a plea agreement?” The experienced team of criminal defense lawyers at The Forrester Law Firm is prepared to help with these and other common questions. To learn more about your legal rights in a criminal case, contact us today at (609) 613-1513.

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