Understanding the plea bargaining process

Plea bargaining is a frequently used tool in the American legal system. It's estimated that plea bargains occur in nine out of 10 criminal cases-thereby preventing these cases from ever going to trial. If you've been accused of a crime, it's important that you understand what plea bargaining entails. Here are the basics:

What is a plea bargain?

A plea bargain is a deal you make with the prosecutor of your case in which you agree to plead guilty to a crime (or a lesser form of a crime) you're accused of in exchange for some concession or compromise from the prosecution, such as receiving a lesser sentence than would otherwise be expected for that crime. Plea bargains only ever occur in criminal cases. Below are the two most common types of plea bargains:

· Charge bargaining: You are charged with a serious crime. The prosecution agrees to drop the charge against you if you plead guilty to a less serious crime.

· Sentence bargaining: You agree to plead guilty to the crime you are charged with, and in exchange, the prosecution-in collaboration with the judge-agrees to a lighter sentence.

So why would you want to plead guilty to a crime you didn't commit?

Let's say, for example, you were charged with committing burglary. Under the terms of a plea bargain, you might agree to plead guilty to the lesser crime of trespassing, and in exchange, the prosecution will drop the burglary charge. You still pay a penalty, but the penalty is much lower than it could have been. On the other hand, if your case went to trial and you were acquitted, you could avoid the penalty altogether.

Hence, accepting a plea bargain is a bit of a gamble. The decision is always up to you, but it is worth discussing the relative pros and cons of your case with your lawyer.

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