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Plea Bargains Overview

The vast majority of criminal cases are resolved through a "plea bargain", usually well before the case reaches trial. In a plea bargain, the defendant agrees to plead guilty, usually to a lesser charge than one for which the defendant could stand trial, in exchange for a more lenient sentence, and/or so that certain related charges are dismissed. For both the government and the defendant, the decision to enter into (or not enter into) a plea bargain may be based on the seriousness of the alleged crime, the strength of the evidence in the case, and the prospects of a guilty verdict at trial. Plea bargains are generally encouraged by the court system, and have become something of a necessity due to overburdened criminal court calendars and overcrowded jails.

What Kind Of Plea Bargain Might Be Made?

To illustrate how a "plea bargain" might be reached in a criminal case: suppose Dan is arrested and charged with two counts of aggravated assault/battery, based on his alleged use of a baseball bat in a street fight. A "plea bargain" might be reached in Dan's case in one of three ways:

  • 1) The prosecuting attorney handling the case approaches Dan and his attorney, and offers to allow Dan to plead guilty to a less serious charge, such as simple assault/battery or even disorderly conduct; or

  • 2) Dan agrees to plead guilty to one charge or "count" of aggravated assault/battery, in exchange for dismissal of the second count; or

  • The government's evidence against Dan is so strong, and the injuries suffered by the assault victim so serious, that Dan agrees to plead guilty to the original charge of aggravated assault/battery, in exchange for a less severe sentence than he would likely receive if a jury found him guilty at trial.

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