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What are the pros and cons of plea bargains?

On Behalf of | May 13, 2024 | Criminal Defense

If you’ve been charged with a crime and you cannot get the case dismissed, there’s a very good chance that your case will be resolved through a plea bargain. 

For some time now, roughly 98% of cases in the federal courts have been resolved that way, and most state courts aren’t any different. Plea bargains are viewed as efficient and cost-effective for the state, and they go down as a “win” for the prosecutor, so the authorities like them.

But what about the pros and cons of plea deals for defendants? Here are the things to consider:

1. You get a certain outcome

If you opt for a plea bargain, you most likely will know the outcome of your case in advance, which can provide some relief from the unpredictability that comes with a trial. The stress relief can be significant.

2. You may get a reduced sentence

While every plea agreement is different, it’s not unusual for plea deals to involve lenient sentences. If you’re sitting in jail waiting for trial, a plea deal may get you home to your family and back to your life a lot faster than a trial – even if you win.

3. You may get alternative sentencing or a reduced charge

In some cases, defendants can plead guilty to a misdemeanor instead of a felony (thus avoiding the collateral damage from the felony conviction on their lives), or even go through alternative sentencing that will eventually wipe their records clean. This is common with “drug courts,” where the goal is rehabilitation over punishment.

However, plea deals also have some negatives. A conviction is a conviction, whether you plead guilty or are convicted at trial, and that can have a big impact on your future. Plus, factually innocent defendants may feel coerced into accepting plea deals rather than face a longer sentence if they lose at trial – and that undermines their rights. 

While plea deals are a pragmatic tool for both sides of a criminal trial, they should be approached with caution. Legal guidance specific to your situation is essential.