What is a Plea Bargain?
A plea bargain is an agreement during criminal proceedings between the prosecutor’s office and the defendant, in which, the defendant agrees to plead guilty in exchange for either a reduced sentence, reduced charges, or dismissed charges. More than 90% of criminal cases that result in a conviction are resolved through plea bargains. When a defendant is represented, the plea bargain is something that the defendant’s criminal defense attorney will present them with after serious discussions with the prosecuting attorney.
A defendant does not have to accept a plea bargain. A defendant cannot be compelled to enter a plea of guilty to the charges. In fact, Judges make sure of this during the “acceptance” of a plea bargain stage of a court hearing. Judges always ask a defendant if they are accepting the plea because they wish to accept the plea, of their own free will, and whether or not any threats have been made to force them to accept the plea. Accepting a plea is a decision that is always made by the defendant and the defendant alone.
The job of the criminal defense attorney during plea bargaining is to attempt to obtain the best resolution, or plea bargain, for their client. Additionally, it is the job of the criminal defense attorney to explain to the client what the plea offer is, what their options in regard to that offer are, and answer any questions the client may have about the plea offer. A criminal defense attorney cannot (and should not) force a client to accept a plea. If a client asks for a recommendation, the criminal defense attorney should provide a professional recommendation in regard to the client’s options.
Accepting Plea Bargains
So, what if my criminal defense attorney recommends accepting a plea? There are many reasons that a criminal defense attorney may recommend that you accept a plea in lieu of going to trial. One of the most common reasons that defendant’s accept a plea bargain is that a lighter sentence or reduced charges have been offered. For example, an individual may be charged with a felony and be presented with an offer to plead guilty to a misdemeanor instead of a felony. Felonies carry harsher punishments than misdemeanors, so an individual accepting a misdemeanor plea could be extremely beneficial to them. They may be able to preserve their housing, job, civil rights, and even professional licenses.
In the alternative, a reduction in the charges could be in the form of dismissing some of the charges or the severity of the charges. Further, a plea bargain could be reached in regard to sentencing. After discussions the prosecutor may agree to a specific sentence, for example, probation for 6 months, community service, or any number of different sentence agreements that could benefit the individual being charged.
Another reason a client may want to accept a plea agreement is to resolve the case. As we tell our clients often, time is your friend. However, understandably, many people want the stress of the case to be over or do not want to incur the stress and cost of a jury trial. Taking a case to trial means there could be lengthy delays, like jury selection and jury deliberation, explaining evidence to the jury, waiting for a verdict and more. Further, a trial is always an unknown. When accepting a plea bargain, the individual face the consequences with some understanding of what they may be and, quite frankly, “gets the consequences over with”, without having to worry about what the outcome of the case may be for extended periods of time.
These are just some of the reasons an individual may accept a plea. Each case is different and each person is different. The ultimate takeaway is, if you are looking to accept a plea, that your criminal defense attorney is essentially the GPS - there to guide you, answer your questions, fight for you, and advocate for the best possible outcome, but you are always the captain of your case.
Grand Rapids Skilled Defense Attorneys
If you are looking for a criminal defense attorney who is experienced and dedicated to obtaining the best results possible for your criminal case, contact Tanis Schultz, PLLC today at 616-608-7149 or use our contact form to discuss your options.