Plea bargains are very common in the American legal system. Approximately 90% of all cases end in such a deal. Nonetheless, you shouldn’t take a plea deal just because it’s the norm. The decision to accept or reject a plea bargain is a personal one. In this post, we examine some basic things you should know about this process.
What is a plea bargain?
A plea bargain – also called a plea agreement or deal – occurs when the prosecutor in your case offers you an opportunity to resolve the case without a trial. If you make certain concessions – usually to plead guilty to a lesser crime than the one you’re charged with – you can skip the trial in exchange for a lighter sentence. The State may also have some concessions to make that can result in a better deal for you.
For example, let’s say you’re facing a first-time charge for possession with intent to distribute heroin – which is a felony in Tennessee. If convicted, you could serve anywhere from 8 to 30 years in prison depending on your criminal history. However, if you agree to plead guilty to a lesser, misdemeanor charge of first-time possession, you’ll only serve up to 11 months and 29 days in jail. In addition, the state will drop your original charge.
Each plea deal varies based on the crime. In some cases, it might result in a lower jail sentence. In other cases, it may allow you to avoid jail all together –giving you probation, community service, or mandatory counseling.
Is it my best option?
You shouldn’t let someone talk you into taking the risk of a trial, and you also shouldn’t let anyone convince you to accept a plea deal. The decision is highly personal and highly dependent on the circumstances of your case.
On the one hand, you could receive lower penalties than if you were convicted of the original crime. On the other hand, if you go to trial and are found not guilty, there would be no penalties whatsoever. In addition, if you are innocent, convincing yourself to plead guilty to a crime you didn’t commit could be especially difficult. However, sometimes innocent people may enter plea deals because it isn’t worth the risk of going to trial and being convicted.
You need to weigh the pros and cons of your decision. While no one else can make this decision for you, consulting with an experienced defense attorney who can help you weigh your options can be extremely valuable. They can help you understand the strength of your case and your likelihood of winning at trial.