Will Your Case Resolve with a Plea Bargain?
If you’re facing criminal charges for the first time in your life, there’s probably a lot going through your mind. Will you be convicted? Will you go to jail or prison? What will happen to your job, your home, and your family? Will incarceration, in turn, ruin your credit? Will your case go to trial? These are the types of questions defendants ask themselves every day and for good reason.
Will your case end up at trial? In all honesty, the vast majority of cases do NOT go to trial because most of them resolve with a plea bargain. With a plea bargain, the prosecution and the defense come to an agreement. In the criminal court system, this process is called “negotiating a plea” or “plea bargaining.” In most states and local jurisdictions, this is how most criminal cases are resolved.
Why Plea Bargaining?
Why is plea bargaining so widely used in jurisdictions throughout Florida and the United States? Because it has many practical reasons or advantages:
- The defendant can avoid the costs of defending themselves at a long, drawn-out trial.
- Going to trial means the risk of a harsher punishment.
- A trial can receive unwanted public attention.
- The prosecution and the defense can avoid the uncertainty of trial.
- Both sides maintain a higher level of control over the outcome of the case.
- The courts are saved the burden of hosting a full-blown trial every time someone is charged with a crime.
Either side can propose a plea bargain, but it’s always up to the defendant to accept. The final decision to accept or reject a plea bargain comes down to the defendant, not the prosecution. Of course, a plea bargain can only be successful if both sides agree and then it usually has to go before a judge for a final seal of approval.
As a general rule, plea bargains have one of two results: 1) the defendant pleads guilty to a lesser charge, or 2) the defendant pleads guilty to only one charge when they’re facing multiple charges. However, it could also mean the defendant pleads guilty to the charge, but the prosecution recommends that the judge hands down a more lenient sentence.
Do Judges Have Approve?
Judges are not bound to approve of plea bargains or accept the prosecution’s recommendation. In many criminal cases, plea bargains have to be approved by the court, but in some circumstances, that’s not so. Sometimes, a prosecutor can drop charges against a defendant without having to seek the court’s approval. This can occur when the defendant agrees to a lesser offense and in exchange, the prosecutor drops charges.
“A defendant may only plead guilty if they actually committed the crime and admits to doing so in open court before the judge. When the defendant admits to the crime, they agree they are guilty and they agree that they may be “sentenced” by the judge presiding over the court — the only person authorized to impose a sentence.
“Sometimes the Government will agree, as part of a plea agreement, not to recommend an enhanced sentence (such as additional time in prison for certain reasons) but it is left up to the judge to determine how the defendant will be punished,” according to the United States Department of Justice.