What is a Plea Bargain in California?
If you are charged with a criminal offense in California, your criminal defense lawyer might be able to negotiate a plea bargain for you. You agree to plead guilty to the crime rather than go to trial, usually with the result of facing lesser charges or penalties. The defendant who accepts a plea bargain is waiving their right to a trial by jury as well as the right to appeal. They also waive their right to confront the prosecution’s witnesses.
Plea bargaining is not as simple as it often looks on court shows on television, however. A plea bargain is a binding agreement between a criminal defendant and law enforcement. It may be made at any time before a verdict is read in a case. It must be approved by a judge, however, in order to become effective.
Why Do I Hear So Many Cases End in Plea Bargains?
In truth, most criminal cases are resolved through plea bargains, as they save the time that a trial and jury deliberation would entail. According to the American Constitution Society, as of 2018, 95 percent of case resulting in a conviction result from plea bargains.
A plea bargain benefits all of the parties involved in a criminal case. The defendant is certain in the outcome of the case, whereas they might not be so certain if the case were taken to trial. The prosecutor likes plea bargains because it resolves the criminal case, and they don’t have to prepare for trial, saving time and money. The court, similarly, generally likes plea bargains because it saves the time and cost of a trial.
What Types of Plea Bargains Exist?
Lawyers are familiar with four types of plea bargains:
- Charge bargaining, one of the most common types of plea bargains, involves an agreement where the defendant pleads guilty to a lesser offense or reduced charge
- Sentence bargaining is common with lower-level offenses that offer diversion programs. In this type of plea bargain, the defendant pleads guilty to the same charge in exchange for a prosecutorial recommendation of a lighter sentence or diversion plan
- Count bargaining may occur when the defendant is facing multiple charges and agrees to plead guilty to one charge if the others are dropped
- Fact bargaining occurs when a defendant pleads guilty to keep damaging facts out of the court records. This may involve a plea of no contest (nolo contendere). This means the defendant agrees to accept whatever penalty is imposed by the court, in order to save the time and embarrassment of a trial.
What is Overcharging?
A prosecutor will sometimes overcharge a defendant in order to encourage them to take a plea bargain. If a prosecutor thinks that one or more charges against the defendant are supported by evidence and that conviction will likely occur, they may pursue additional charges against the defendant with weaker evidence. Then, the prosecutor will offer to drop the additional charges in return for a guilty plea on the main charges. This process is often referred to as overcharging. If a defendant turns down the plea bargain offered by the prosecutor, they could be convicted of all of the charges brought against them – even the ones that have weaker evidence and are “overcharged” – and end up spending more time in prison.
Should I Accept a Plea Bargain in My Criminal Case?
If you have been charged with a criminal offense in California, you need the advice and counsel of the best criminal defense law firm. Contact our legal experts and we will help you to determine if a plea bargain is the right option for your case. Remember, when you accept a plea bargain, the testimony and evidence in your case will never be seen by a judge or jury. Your cooperation with the court in taking a plea bargain may earn you a lighter sentence, as you are saving the court time and money. Only you and your legal team can decide, however, if a plea bargain is right for your criminal case.