Plea bargains explained

The common assumption among the population is that every criminal arrest leads to a trial, where the prosecution takes the defendant to court and provides solid evidence to prove that the defendant actually committed the criminal offense (like drug trafficking) and gets a conviction. However, that doesn't occur as often as thought. The fact is a lot of criminal cases can be resolved through plea bargains. If you're facing criminal charges, you can talk to your criminal attorney about this option. Read on for further insight.

The specifics

A plea bargain is usually an agreement involving the prosecution and the defendant's legal defense team where each party gives up something in order to get something in return. Basically, the prosecution agrees not to take the criminal case to full trial and prosecute. In return, the prosecution is guaranteed of a conviction against the accused person. On the other hand, the defendant pleads guilty and relinquishes his or her right to a court trial. In return for this, the defendant obtains some leniency from the prosecution in two general areas.

  • The prosecution may agree to drop some criminal charges against the defendant or may allow the defendant to plead guilty to less serious offenses.
  • The prosecution may vouch for the defendant to get a somewhat lighter sentence than the one he or she would get if the case went to full trial and was convicted by the criminal court.

Typical example

Let's assume you've been arrested for being in possession of cocaine and bhang in Australia and you're facing charges of drug possession and trafficking.  Through your criminal attorney, you can have an agreement with the prosecution where you agree to plead guilty in return for the following:

  • The opportunity to plead guilty to possession of illegal drugs, which is a less serious offense compared to drug trafficking.
  • The prosecution to drop the trafficking charge for cocaine in return for a guilty plea on the bhang charge.
  • The prosecution to recommend to the jury, at sentencing, to place you on probation instead of serving a jail sentence.

All plea bargains must be approved by the criminal court. The judge will speak to you in person to make sure your plea bargain is deliberate and not the result of coercion, threats or assurances not captured in the plea contract.

Plea bargains are favoured by criminal defendants because it affords them some control over their destiny. Generally, criminal trials are long and costly to litigate, so the defendant would prefer a plea bargain given that the case gets resolved faster and without considerable legal expense, especially if you're paying for your own criminal attorney.