In a criminal case, a plea bargain is an agreement between the prosecution and the defense in which the prosecution offers to drop or reduce some charges, or to recommend a certain sentence to the judge in exchange for a plea of guilty or no contest from the defendant.
The prosecutor is the person that offers the defendant the plea bargain and it would be up to the defendant to accept the plea bargain or whether to reject the plea bargain and send the case to trial.
Once defendant rejects a plea bargain, the defendant cannot retract the previous plea offered even if the defendant gets a harsher penalty. The defendant must accept the plea bargain knowingly and voluntarily. Before accepting the defendant’s plea bargain, the judge must also ensure that the defendant knows his rights to trial and his consequences in waiving that right.
Typically, you can enter into a plea bargain any time from the moment you are arrested, to the moment before a verdict is read. However, some states have laws that regulate when and how you can enter a plea bargain. These laws vary from state to state.
Some of the advantages of plea bargaining include:
- Having a less serious offense on your criminal record
- Receiving a less severe sentence than you might receive in trial
- Resolving the matter quickly
- Avoiding a messy trial that could potentially harm your reputation
If the prosecutor breaks the plea bargain you may be able to get the judge to set your plea aside, or you may be able to get a court order requiring the prosecutor to respect the plea bargain. Judges also allow a defendant with withdraw a guilty plea in limited circumstances. These may include when the defendant did not voluntarily or knowingly accept the plea agreement or waived his rights to trial due to a clerical or trial error.
In some cases a guilty plea may also be withdrawn if the defendant was deprived of a constitutional right such as ineffective assistance of counsel.
Usually cases are settled through a guilty plea and the defendant accepts the plea agreement. Many instances the defendant will agree to no contest (or nolo contendere) pleas. These have the same consequences as a guilty plea, however the defendant is not admitting to guilt. This is primarily because the admission of guilt or liability would then not be used against the defendant later in a civil case if the defendant pleads “no contest.”
If you need assistance with your criminal law issue, you should consult with an experienced criminal defense lawyer. Your lawyer can help you develop the best defenses for your case and will represent you through the plea bargain process.