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What is a Plea Bargain?

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Contrary to the dramatic scenarios that are portrayed on television, few criminal cases are decided by a sensational trial in which a defendant must fight for his life. The majority of cases in the real world do not make it to a court room to be heard by a jury. Instead, most criminal cases are settled prior to a trial with a plea bargain (also known as a plea agreement). A plea bargain is a popular legal solution for both the court and the accused. A plea agreement saves time and money, and it can also result in mitigated consequences for a defendant.

A plea bargain is an arrangement between a defendant and a prosecutor that provides a compromise on the charges. An accused person benefits by receiving a guarantee of a lighter sentence in exchange for a guilty confession. The arrangement is beneficial to the prosecution because it guarantees a conviction of the accused, even at a lesser charge.

There are two types of plea agreements:

  • Guilty plea: The defendant admits his guilt and involvement with the crime in exchange for a lesser criminal charge in exchange for penalties that are less severe.
  • Nolo contendere plea: The defendant declares “no contest.” This means that he neither accepts or denies the charges that are against him in exchange for penalties that are less severe.

Sentencing With a Plea Agreement

Once an agreement is made between the accused and the prosecution, it is the judge’s turn to make a decision. He can either accept or deny the plea bargain. In most cases, a judge will accept the plea bargain if the prosecutors have already done so.

If an accused person has prior criminal convictions or a history of commissioning violent crimes, a judge will most likely reject the prosecution’s offer for a plea bargain. If this happens, the criminal case does not necessarily go to trial. Rather, the prosecutors and the defense are given the opportunity to renegotiate the plea agreement and make it more appropriate for the judge.

The accused can also change his mind about accepting a plea bargain, as long as he does this before the sentencing hearing takes place. A plea bargain is final when the accused is officially sentenced for a crime. Any defendant who believes that he or she was misled about the agreement or was coerced into accepting it has the option to repeal the decision. An appeal may also be considered if the resulting criminal penalty was too harsh or incongruent with what both sides agreed on.

Schedule a free consultation with Houston criminal defense lawyer Brett A. Podolsky if you would like to find out more about plea agreements.

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