Skip to main content

Should You Accept a Plea Bargain in a Criminal Case?

Should You Accept a Plea Bargain in a Criminal Case?

A lot of things happen when you are charged with a crime. You may be questioned by the police, investigated and later charged and arrested. Yet, this is just the beginning of what could be a long, nerve-racking experience. During this time, you'll need an experienced attorney to help you through the process. One of the things a criminal law attorney will help you with is plea bargaining. Negotiating a plea in lieu of trial is an important step in the adjudication of a criminal case. Learn why it can make sense to accept a plea bargain under certain circumstances.

What Is Plea Bargaining?

In essence, a plea bargain is an agreement between the two opposing sides in a criminal case. The prosecution is represented by the District Attorney's office, and defense counsel acts on behalf of the defendant. Although these two sides are adversaries, they can still reach a valid, legal agreement on how to resolve the case. In most cases this is done to avoid further litigation. In fact, over 90 percent of all criminal cases end with a plea bargain.

The General Types of Plea Bargains

There are a few different ways that a criminal defense attorney can help you resolve a case through negotiation. Plea bargains can address the type of charges levied against a defendant. In such cases, a defendant will usually plead guilty to a lesser offense. A prosecutor may also offer to dismiss certain charges for a plea on others. In addition, a defendant may be able to plea to a specific count in exchange for a less serious sentence, such as probation. Finally, a criminal law attorney may use fact bargaining for your case. This means that you will stipulate to a version of the facts (supporting the charge) that may help you avoid an increased penalty in the future. In conclusion, there are many different ways that a defense attorney can make use of plea bargaining to obtain a fair resolution of the case.

The Applicable Timeline

There isn't a definite timeline dictating when negotiations take place in a criminal case. In reality, there may be an opportunity to strike a plea bargain at several points along the way. Generally, these discussions take place between the arrest and the trial date. However, you may even seek out a plea agreement following a trial, as in the case of a hung jury. Your criminal defense attorney will help you determine the best time to consider a plea bargain.

How the Process is Finalized

Just because both parties have agreed to a plea doesn't mean it will take effect. The court retains the authority to approve or reject a plea bargain. In some cases, judges may defer the issue altogether until they have access to a pre-sentencing report. Judges are also free to amend plea agreements or to recommend a more appropriate sentence. The judge will consider several different factors, including the defendant's own character, to arrive at a disposition.

Making a Final Decision

It can be difficult to decide whether to accept a plea offer in your case. Under any circumstance, you should take the time to make an informed decision. Accepting the offer can save you a lot of time and money in the long run. It may also help you avoid publicity or a longer sentence. On the other hand, a plea bargain may prevent you from vindicating yourself or exposing injustice in the legal system. Speak to a criminal law attorney to get a thorough understanding of your options.

For more assistance with criminal law issues in Utah, contact us at TR Spencer & Associates by visiting

criminal law, plea bargain