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Understanding a plea bargain

Kentucky residents charged with a serious crime may be unclear as to whether or not they should allow their attorney to enter into a plea bargain with the prosecutor. The American Bar Association advises that a plea bargain is a negotiation between the prosecutor and the defendant and his or her attorney leading to an agreement as to certain things regarding the case.

Per FindLaw, the three types of plea bargains are as follows:

  1. Charge plea bargain: The prosecutor agrees to drop one or more serious charges in exchange for the defendant pleading guilty to one or more lesser charges.
  2. Sentence plea bargain: The prosecutor agrees to recommend a lesser sentence in exchange for the defendant pleading guilty to the crime(s) with which he or she is charged.
  3. Fact plea bargain: The defendant and his or her attorney agree to stipulate to the truth of certain facts in the case in exchange for the prosecutor agreeing not to bring up other facts during trial.

Advantages of a plea bargain

There are practical reasons for the prosecution and the defense to make a plea bargain, including the following:

  • It saves the defendant from having to go to trial and face conviction by the jury and a harsher sentence by the judge.
  • It saves the defendant the cost of defending himself or herself in what could be a lengthy trial.
  • It saves the prosecution and the court the time and expense of conducting a trial.

Disadvantages of a plea bargain

The main disadvantage of a plea bargain is that when defendants know they did not commit the crime(s) with which they are charged, the plea bargain denies them the opportunity of being acquitted by a jury. In addition, even though the prosecutor and the defendant and his or her attorney agree to the plea bargain, the judge is not part of this agreement. The judge can disregard any term(s) of the plea bargain he or she thinks are inappropriate in this specific case. For instance, the judge can impose any sentence he or she wishes, assuming it follows any sentencing guidelines imposed by state law.

Most convicted criminal defendants appeal their case to a higher court. However, if they entered into a plea bargain, getting their conviction reversed on appeal or getting a new trial is extremely difficult. This is because plea bargains are voluntary agreements and the defendant must verbally plead guilty to the agreed upon charges at the trial court level. Changing his or her mind later is chancy at best because he or she has little credibility at that point.

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