Plea Bargain

Can I Negotiate With The Prosecutor For A Favorable Plea Bargain?

Very few criminal cases actually go to trial; the majority are resolved through pleas, whether bargained for or not. You are not required to retain an attorney to reach a plea bargain with the prosecutor, but doing so may greatly improve your ability to get a favorable deal.

The Plea Bargaining Process

Entering a plea of guilty can be done at any time during the criminal justice process; however, a negotiated plea bargain will typically start with a plea of not guilty. As your case progresses, substantial issues in the prosecutor's case against you may be exposed through a probable cause hearing or through the discovery process; these holes can be used to improve your hand when negotiating for a favorable plea.

The Advantages And Disadvantages Of A Plea Bargain

There are both pros and cons to reaching a plea deal. Through a plea bargain, you may get:

  • Some charges dropped. You may be able to negotiate a guilty plea to certain charges in exchange for other charges being dropped by the prosecutor.
  • The charges you face reduced. If you are facing a serious sex crime charge, negotiating for a reduction in charges may mean the difference between a lifetime on the sex offender registry, a term of years or no time at all.
  • A lighter sentence. Particularly in the federal system, the sentencing guidelines allow for a reduction in a potential sentence for taking responsibility for a crime and assisting the prosecution.
  • A faster resolution to your case. Once a plea is entered and accepted by the judge, you will move into the sentencing phase.
  • A resolution that you are able to control. A plea bargain allows you to determine how your case will be resolved rather than leaving your fate in the hands of the judge or a jury trial.

If your boyfriend, girlfriend, loved one or family member is being held in jail and is not eligible for bond or cannot afford to post bond, a plea bargain may get him or her out of jail faster.

But, research has shown that plea bargains have led to innocent individuals pleading guilty or no contest to crimes they didn't commit simply because of the potential sentence that could come with a conviction. In addition, tough sentencing guidelines, particularly mandatory minimums at the state and federal level, often force an accused to accept a sentence rather than roll the dice at trial.

Withdrawing A Guilty Plea

You do have a chance to withdraw a guilty plea after you have made one. If the judge has not yet accepted your plea or if you have not yet been sentenced, your chance of succeeding on your request to withdraw a guilty plea is better. One reason you may want to withdraw is that the judge has refused to accept the negotiated sentencing that you reached with the prosecutor to secure your guilty plea.

Rejecting A Plea Deal

It is your right to have your criminal case heard by a jury. If you do not receive a plea deal that you like or if you think that you have a strong case and can win at trial, you may want to press on. An experienced criminal defense attorney can discuss the possible outcomes of a trial with you. One of those outcomes could be a guilty verdict and a much longer sentence than you are being offered to plead out.

But, you could also win at trial and walk away without spending any time in prison or another day in jail. You have to decide what risks you are willing to take with the uncertainty of trial, the weaknesses in the prosecutor's case, the likelihood of a better result at trial and other factors.

North Carolina vs. M.W.
Charge: Charge: Robbery with A Dangerous Weapon (4 Counts), First Degree Burglary, Conspiracy to Commit Robbery with A Dangerous Weapon
Facing: 12 - 17 years in prison
Result: Dismissed

An incarcerated defendant accused our client of participating in the robbery of a group of youth at a party. We were able to raise doubt as to the credibility of this individual. In the end, the prosecutor dismissed these charges, citing a lack of evidence.