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Understanding plea bargains

Entering into a plea bargain can be a very useful and practical strategy for a New Jersey resident charged with committing a crime. Before doing so, however, the defendant should know exactly what he or she is agreeing to and exactly what the consequences of that agreement will be.

As defined by the American Bar Association, a plea bargain is a negotiation between the defendant and the prosecutor whereby they arrive at an agreement regarding certain things. Plea bargains often are initiated by the defendant’s attorney when seeking special considerations for his or her client.

FindLaw points out that there are three kinds of plea bargains as follows:

  1. Charge bargain: the defendant agrees to plead guilty to one or more lesser charges and the prosecutor agrees to drop one or more serious charges.
  2. Sentence bargain: the defendant agrees to plead guilty to the crime(s) as charged and the prosecutor agrees to recommend a lighter sentence.
  3. Fact bargain: the defendant agrees to stipulate to the truthfulness of certain facts at trial and the prosecutor agrees not to introduce certain other facts at trial; fact plea bargains are very rare and some jurisdictions completely disallow them.

Plea bargain advantages and disadvantages

One of the biggest advantages of a plea bargain is that it can save a defendant who is not financially well off the high cost of mounting a full-blown trial defense. Criminal trials can last for weeks or even months and often require hiring several attorneys as well as expert witnesses.

In addition, jury trial outcomes are unpredictable at best, regardless of the strength of the defendant’s case. Horror stories abound regarding innocent defendants who spend years in prison before being released because someone else finally is discovered to have committed the crime(s) for which the defendant was wrongfully convicted.

If a defendant knows he or she is guilty, however, a plea bargain may be a good way to serve less prison time. Defendants should be aware of the fact, however, that the judge is not part of a sentencing plea bargain. Regardless of the prosecutor’s sentencing recommendations, should the judge feel that a longer sentence is more appropriate, he or she has the authority to impose it.

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