Anyone who has seen a few episodes of any of the Law & Order television franchises will be familiar with the term plea bargain. A plea bargain is not a “get out of jail” monopoly card. In this article, we will discuss a plea bargain versus going to trial and the pros and cons of each.

What are Plea Bargains?

Plea bargains are agreements that allow both sides to avoid a lengthy trial process and allow a defendant to have a predetermined sentence that is usually less than the maximum potential sentence. In a criminal plea bargain, the defendant is admitting to some form of guilt. An example is a person who has been charged with grand theft and faces a felony punishment in state prison might agree to plea guilty to a lesser charge of a misdemeanor theft where they may be able to serve out their sentence on probation.

What is a Trial?

A trial is an adversarial process where both sides present their evidence and arguments in front of a judge and jury. This process can take a few hours, days, or even months to complete. In a trial, a defendant may be found not guilty of the charges and be completely free, they may be found guilty of the most serious of charges and end up with severe punishment, or the jury could find them guilty of some, not guilty of others, or find them guilty of lesser-included offenses. After a trial, the judge will do the sentencing as any negotiating for a plea bargain will have ceased.

What is the Advantage of Plea Bargains?

There are many advantages to a plea bargain. As mentioned already, a plea bargain allows both sides to avoid a trial. This saves money and resources on the court system. A plea bargain is  voluntary and the defendant has a choice in accepting the State’s offer as to what charges that will end up on their criminal record and the length of the punishment. It also allows the witnesses and/or victims to avoid testifying and, therefore, will prevent traumatic experiences resulting from the crime.

What are the Disadvantages of Plea Bargains?

Plea bargaining has many legitimate critiques. When a defendant agrees to a plea bargain, they waive their Constitutional Rights to a trial and an appeal. Plea bargains are often open to manipulation by the state in that they can bluff or coerce a plea when evidence is lacking or insufficient and might result in a not-guilty verdict. Lastly, many prosecutors will stack multiple charges on a defendant in hopes of striking a plea deal for one of the lesser charges. Plea bargains may also prevent a victim from having their day in court.

Plea Bargain or Trial, What is Better?

Whether a criminal defendant chooses a plea bargain or a trial depends on the facts of the situation and the evidence available. To best advise a defendant of their rights, consult a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney. If you or a person you know faces a criminal trial, contact Adam Bantner to ensure your rights are protected.