If you’ve been charged with a crime, you may be able to plead guilty to a lesser charge through a plea bargain. A plea bargain is an agreement between you and the prosecutor in which you will admit to being guilty of a crime that is less serious than the one originally charged.

In some cases involving multiple charges, a defendant might agree to plead guilty to one charge in exchange for the prosecutor dropping the other charges. For example, if you’ve been charged with aggravated assault and battery, you may be able to plead guilty to the aggravated assault charge and in exchange the prosecutor may drop the battery charge.

Why Are Plea Bargains Encouraged?

It’s no secret that the criminal justice system is often overwhelmed—especially in urban areas. Here in Philadelphia, prosecutors want to make sure they have the time and resources to work on complex or high profile cases involving serious crimes, so they’re often willing to work with defendants to resolve more straightforward cases out of court.

From the defendant’s perspective, a plea bargain may be an attractive option because it allows him or her to avoid the uncertainties and cost of a criminal trial. Paying a lawyer to defend a case in court only to receive a guilty plea can be devastating. That’s why it may be a good idea to work towards a plea bargain—especially if the prosecution has good evidence against you.

How Do Plea Bargains Work?

A defendant and the prosecutors may reach a plea agreement at almost any stage of the criminal justice process. But usually, a plea agreement occurs before the trial starts. This is because both parties will have a good idea of what evidence is available and how a trial might play out in front of a jury. And once the trial begins, there may be less motivation to reach an agreement since each party will have already committed their time and resources toward seeing the trial through to the end.

A defendant and the prosecutors may reach a plea agreement at any of the following stages:

  • Shortly after the defendant has been arrested, and before the prosecutor has formally filed criminal charges
  • During or after pre-trial conferences
  • At any time before the jury returns its verdict
  • If the jury is hung (meaning they can’t make a decision), the prosecutors may be willing to negotiate instead of going through another trial
  • During the appeal of case

In any event, a judge must sign off on the plea agreement for it to have legal effect. In some cases, the judge will encourage the prosecutors and the defendant to reach an agreement in the interest of saving the court’s time and resources. But in other cases involving more serious crimes, a judge may reject a plea bargain when he or she feels the defendant may be getting too light of a punishment.

When Is a Plea Agreement a Good Idea?

Every criminal case is different, and every defendant is different, so there is no clear-cut rule for when accepting a plea agreement is a good idea. When a defendant is facing serious charges and the prosecutors have solid incriminating evidence, it may not be realistic to hope for a good result from a trial. The best-case scenario might be to obtain a guilty verdict on a lesser charge involving a more lenient punishment.

On the other hand, a guilty plea may be a bad idea for defendants for whom the prospect of spending time in jail or having a criminal record is not an option. If found guilty of some felonies, for example, you may lose the right to own a firearm or to practice certain professions in the future. That’s why it’s important to understand fully the consequences arising from a conviction of the lesser offense before agreeing to a plea bargain.

At Fienman Defense, we are committed to giving our clients the best outcomes possible as they navigate the criminal justice system. If you want to talk to Philadelphia criminal defense lawyer Michael H. Fienman about your criminal charges, you can call us today at (215) 839-9529 for a free and confidential consultation of your case.

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