Negotiating a Plea Deal
Although all criminal defendants are entitled to a trial, most will instead choose to enter a plea deal with the prosecution. The Department of Justice estimates that over 90 percent of criminal cases in the United States result in plea deals, and these plea agreements have seen similar popularity in countries throughout the world.
Since plea deals have become so prevalent, it is essential for criminal defendants to understand all the options available to them when presented with a potential deal. If you get charged with a crime, you will almost certainly get a plea offer at some point before you go to trial. Most defendants know that they can accept the offer or reject it, but there is an essential third option available to you as well: to negotiate with the prosecutor for a better offer.
The Negotiable Aspects of Plea Bargains
In a plea deal, the defendant agrees to admit criminal liability and accept a predetermined punishment. In exchange for you forfeiting your right to a trial, the prosecutor in your case will typically offer to drop or reduce the charges against you or to give you a lighter sentence than you would likely get after losing at trial. That presents several possible avenues for negotiation.
Depending on the charges against you, the prosecutor could offer sentences involving prison, jail, or just probation. You can request that the length of these sentences be shortened, or even ask for probation instead of incarceration. Some prosecutors will be willing to offer longer probation periods in exchange for shorter incarceration lengths.
You can also negotiate which actual charges to which you will be pleading guilty. If you have multiple charges, you can request that some of them get dropped; if you have just one, you can sometimes ask the court to reduce it to a lesser offense.
Finally, you might be able to negotiate fines. Many fines are fixed costs and cannot be negotiated, but others are left up to the prosecutor’s discretion.
Mandatory Statutory Punishments
Any negotiations that you enter will be limited by the criminal statutes in your state. Criminal laws commonly include minimum legal sentences, and a prosecutor can never offer you a lesser punishment than these minimums. These minimums can include fines, probation or jail time, and crime-specific consequences such as anger management courses or license suspensions. Your lawyer can help you locate and understand the criminal statutes applicable to your case so that you know the minimum punishment that you are facing.
The Importance of a Lawyer
Many defendants believe that a lawyer is only necessary if they are going to trial, but this is incorrect. A lawyer is also essential for the plea deal process, particularly if you plan to negotiate your plea. Criminal defense lawyers are typically familiar with the personalities and negotiation styles of the prosecutors who work at your courthouse. They can use this knowledge, as well as their legal expertise, to negotiate on your behalf and ensure that you get the best possible plea deal.
If you have been charged with a criminal offense and are unhappy with the plea offer you receive, you don’t need to reject it altogether. Negotiating for a better plea deal is another viable option. It’s important to note though that a prosecutor is never obligated to negotiate or adjust the plea deal in any way.
You should be careful when entering negotiations because they can lead to revocation of the plea deal, and speaking directly with the prosecutor could be damaging to your case. Instead, conduct all negotiations through a licensed and experienced criminal defense attorney who can protect your interests while getting you the best plea deal you could receive.