A “plea bargain” is an agreement between the prosecutor, the
defendant, and the defendant’s lawyer. In return for the defendant
entering a plea of guilty to a criminal charge, the prosecutor agrees
to recommend to the judge a specific penalty.
Plea bargaining allows the prosecution to obtain guilty pleas in cases
that might otherwise go to trial. The prosecutor will not have the burden
of proving the case beyond a reasonable doubt at trial and the defendant
obtains a particular resolution of the charges against him or her.
Courts use the following terms to describe different forms of plea bargaining:
Charge bargaining – The defendant pleads to a crime that’s less serious than
the original charge, or less serious than the most serious charges.
Sentence bargaining – The defendant takes a guilty or no contest plea after the sides
agree what sentence the prosecutor will recommend.
Fact bargaining – The defendant pleads in exchange for the prosecution’s stipulation
that specific facts led to the conviction, in return for an agreement
not to introduce other facts into evidence.
Plea bargaining often takes place at virtually any stage in the criminal
justice process. Plea deals can be reached shortly after a defendant is
arrested and before the prosecution files criminal charges. Deals may
also be struck as a jury returns to a courtroom to announce its verdict.
Lastly, plea deals are sometimes struck after a defendant is convicted
while a case is on appeal.
The volume of cases in the criminal justice system and the limited resources
to prosecute cases in court have led to a growing use of plea bargains
to resolve criminal cases. In 2011, 97 percent of federal criminal cases
were resolved by plea bargains.
Although most types of crimes are eligible for plea bargaining, certain
types of cases are not in California. The state banned plea bargaining
when the information or the indictment charges a serious felony, certain
violent sex crimes, any felony in which a gun is used by the defendant,
or any offense of driving while under the influence. However, bargaining
can still be done for these types of crimes when there is insufficient
evidence to prove the people’s case, the testimony of a material
witness cannot be obtained, or a reduction or dismissal would not result
in a significant change in sentence.
If you have been arrested for a crime in Ventura County,
schedule a free consultation with our
Santa Barbara criminal defense lawyer at
Appel & Morse today.