What is a Plea Bargain?

February 26, 2013

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.