Defendants in criminal cases of all kinds take plea deals all the time – and prosecutors encourage them.
For the defendant, a plea deal can mean an end to the uncertainties about the criminal process and a new path forward. It can also be a wise decision when the evidence against you is overwhelming. For prosecutors, plea deals help keep the courts moving, clear cases and chalk up another “win” in the books.
Before you agree to a plea deal, make sure you know what that means for your case.
What are the 4 most common kinds of plea deals?
Plea bargains can take numerous forms, but the vast majority fall into one of four categories:
- Fact bargaining: If both sides are willing to “stipulate” or agree on a set of facts surrounding the case, that may not end the necessity of a trial or be the end of negotiations. It’s often a way to eliminate some aspect of a case that would otherwise have to be argued out in court and could be the starting point for further bargaining.
- Count bargaining: Sometimes a prosecutor will pile multiple charges on a defendant’s head, all stemming from the same incident. Count bargaining means reducing the overall charges – which may also reduce the overall sentence.
- Charge bargaining: Some crimes are called “wobblers,” meaning they can be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor. Some situations are open to interpretation, which could mean the difference between something like manslaughter and murder. Charge bargaining allows a defendant to plead guilty to the lesser charge, which can make the punishment less severe.
- Sentence bargain: When there’s a wide range of potential sentences for a crime, sentence bargaining often allows a defendant to receive minimal punishment in exchange for not forcing the prosecutor to go through a trial.
As the defendant, it’s ultimately up to you to decide if you’ll agree to a plea deal or not. Understanding everything you can about the process can help guide your steps.