The American Bar Association (ABA) explains that “Many criminal cases are resolved out of court by having both sides come to an agreement.” Plea bargaining is the process by which each side reaches an agreement, and the plea bargain is the result of negotiations.
A plea bargain may have benefits for both sides. Though time will tell, a plea bargain may prove to be the resolution to your own case in Pennsylvania's Eastern or Middle District court.
Why Do Defense Attorneys Agree to Plea Bargains?
From both the prosecutor's, defendant's, and defense attorney's perspectives, there are clear motivations for seeking a plea bargain. For each of these parties, a fear of losing at trial is a fairly obvious reason to accept a plea bargain.
From a defense attorney's perspective, the client's best interests should be the primary reason for plea bargaining. Your attorney may advise that you accept a fair plea bargain because:
- You are facing extraordinarily steep legal consequences if you were to lose your case at trial
- The plea bargain is light compared to the charges you are facing (and the penalties that you would face if you lost at trial)
- The prosecutor has indicated that they will seek harsh penalties if they proceed to trial and secure a guilty verdict
A defense attorney can never make a unilateral decision about accepting a plea bargain. Your lawyer may advise you to accept or decline a plea offer, but you make the final decision as the individual facing the consequences of that plea bargain.
Why Do Defendants Agree to Plea Bargains?
Many defendants facing federal charges in Pennsylvania must weigh extra-legal considerations. While it is never ideal to plead guilty to a federal offense, you may have to consider your family (including your dependents), your employment, and your tolerance for the penal system. Each of these considerations may lead you to accept a plea bargain—or to reject a plea offer, depending on your unique personal details.
As a defendant, you may be willing to accept a plea bargain because:
- The prosecutor agrees to reduce your charges to a misdemeanor, which carries less stigma and fewer consequences than a felony conviction
- You are not willing to risk going to prison or facing other legal consequences that would come from a conviction at trial
- You believe that the prosecutor is competent and could reasonably secure a conviction at trial
- You cannot afford the legal fees that result from a trial
- You have committed the offense in question and simply want to move forward with the lightest penalty you can secure
- Your familial, professional, or personal circumstances make a plea bargain the best decision
Though the judge in your case holds the power of sentencing, judges generally follow the sentencing recommendation that the prosecutor details in the plea agreement.
Why Do Prosecutors Agree to Plea Bargains?
Prosecutors have their own reasons for extending a plea bargain, and these motivations can vary from case to case. A prosecutor may offer you a plea bargain because:
- They are swamped with cases (as prosecutors often are)
- They believe that the plea agreement imposes fair consequences for the offenses you have been accused of
- A prosecutor values their record and does not want to lose your case at trial
- Trial can be costly, even for the U.S. government
There may not be one single reason for you, your attorney, or the prosecutor in your case to accept a plea bargain. Most cases are complex, and there may be numerous reasons for bargaining a plea before trial.
How Does Plea Bargaining Work?
Your attorney and the prosecutor in your case may negotiate a plea bargain in a private setting, perhaps at either party's office. Plea bargaining is a negotiation in the purest sense and may unfold with:
- One party making an offer
- The other party accepting the offer or issuing a counteroffer
As the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) explains, a prosecutor will typically make some kind of concession (i.e., compromise) in exchange for a defendant voluntarily pleading guilty. Such concessions may include the following:
- The prosecutor agreeing to dismiss one or more charges in a case involving multiple federal charges
- A reduction of one or more charges against the defendant, perhaps from a felony to a similar misdemeanor offense
- A recommendation that the judge grant the defendant a specific sentence
A prosecutor may concede in multiple ways, perhaps dismissing certain charges and reducing the severity of existing charges. Your attorney should fight for the most favorable plea bargain that they can secure.
Call attorney Joseph D. Lento at 888-535-3686; he'll fight for you.