Plea bargaining can be initiated by either the prosecution or the defense. When a plea bargain is in the works both sides will negotiate the terms of a sentence. When the defense feels that they have reached the right agreement, they will present the bargain to the defendant. If the defendant accepts the plea bargain, both sides will meet in front of a judge for final approval. The judge then has the right to accept or reject the plea bargain.
The defendant benefits from taking a plea bargain when going to trial would most likely mean a harsh sentence. Ninety percent of all criminal cases in America are settled with the defendant accepting a plea bargain.
Are all plea bargains the same?
No, they are not. There are three types of plea bargains that can be negotiated. They are as follows:
- Sentence bargaining is used to reduce the sentence, or lighten it a bit. For example, if the sentence was likely to be five years in jail, the defense will try to negotiate “time served.” Or, when the defendant is charged with a serious crime and is facing the death penalty, the defense will push for life without parole instead.
- Charge bargaining is used to reduce the severity of charges against the defendant. For example, the defense might try to get a murder charge reduced to manslaughter.
- Count bargaining is used by the defense to get the number of charges against the defendant reduced in exchange for a guilty plea. For example, multiple drug possession charges may be consolidated into one.
A defendant who is facing criminal charges needs to consider all of the options available to them. When the option for a plea bargain presents itself the defendant must make sure that they understand the accompanying terms and conditions before agreeing to the offer on the table.