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Understanding plea bargains and how the process works

On Behalf of | Jan 4, 2018 | Criminal Defense

Approximately 90 percent of all criminal cases in the United States involve some type of plea bargain arrangements or negotiations. Essentially, a plea bargain is an agreement in which the defendant seeks a lesser charge or sentence. There are different types of plea bargains and certain conditions that apply to legal arrangements of this nature in Virginia.

Plea bargains may be part of a criminal defense strategy between the defendant’s attorney and the prosecutor. Such agreements are sometimes referred to as a mutual acknowledgement of the strengths and weaknesses of a case. Prosecutors with heavy caseloads often welcome reasonable plea bargains, which may help avoid the costs and time involved with a trial.

There are three basic types of plea bargains. With charge bargaining, the defendant agrees to a lesser charge as long as the original charge is dropped. For instance, a defendant charged with first-degree murder may seek a reduced charge of manslaughter. Sentence bargaining is an agreement to plead guilty to the original charge in exchange for a reduced sentence. The arrangements typically must be approved by a judge. Some jurisdictions do not permit sentence bargaining. Fact bargaining is an agreement to accept certain facts and discount other ones. Accepted offers may be revoked if the defendant fails to follow the terms of the agreement.

Whether or not a criminal attorney is able to negotiate a plea bargain will depend on the circumstances of the case. Agreements sometimes involve reducing a felony charge to a misdemeanor offense. An example of this is felony theft being reduced to a lesser trespassing charge. With something like a DUI charge, the ability to plea bargain may depend on the defendant’s history with similar offenses. A lawyer might help a defendant weigh their options to determine if it’s wise or possible to seek a plea bargain agreement.