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Plea bargaining and how it works

If you are charged with a crime, at some point during your case prosecutors may offer a plea bargain. The vast majority of criminal cases in the U.S. end up settling in this way. However, that does not mean that accepting a bargain will always be in your best interests. That will depend on the specific facts of your case, your priorities and the type of offer.

What prosecutors offer

When a defendant enters into a plea bargain, he or she agrees to plead guilty, giving up the chance to go to trial. In exchange, prosecutors offer several kinds of incentives. In a charge bargain, prosecutors offer the opportunity to plead to a lesser charge than the one you are being accused of. When you plead guilty, the judge will dismiss the original charge.

Prosecutors may also suggest a count bargain. If you are charged with several counts of a crime, this kind of plea bargain can allow you to plead to some of the counts and get the others dismissed.

Sentence bargains often appear on the table in cases with highly serious charges. In return for pleading guilty to the charges, prosecutors promise you a particular sentence or to make specific recommendations to the judge at the sentencing hearing.

What a bargain means for you

Depending on your case, agreeing to give up a trial may be an advantage or not. Avoiding trial can certainly cut down on your expenses and save you from enduring what is often a harrowing and stressful experience. On the other hand, some defendants find it very importa nt to have their day in court.

When you agree to a plea bargain, you also give up your right to appeal, except in some very strictly limited circumstances. If you want to agree to the bargain, you need to understand that you surrender your right to argue your version of events.

For most purposes, a plea bargain counts the same as a conviction. Your record will reflect that you committed whatever crime you pleaded guilty to. Thus, you will face the legal, professional and social consequences of having this record. If you are not a U.S. citizen, certain convictions can affect your immigration status as well.

No defendant should ever speak with prosecutors about a plea bargain without a strong defense attorney at his or her side. Your attorney can evaluate the strength of the evidence, the likely outcome of a trial, the consequences of accepting the bargain and your own interests and priorities. While the ultimate decision is yours, a knowledgeable lawyer can give you the information and advice you need.

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