What You Should Know About Plea Bargains
When you get offered a plea bargain in your criminal case, do not accept it just yet. Whether or not you should agree to a plea bargain depends on the specific circumstances of your case. With any issues with the law, your first step should be to talk to an attorney. A consultation with a criminal defense attorney is often necessary to determine whether it is in your best interests to accept a plea bargain.
At Madson Castello Law, our criminal defense attorneys – Kendall Castello and Messina Madson – serve Dallas, Texas, and all of North Texas, including Denton, Fort Worth, and McKinney. They have extensive experience in defending clients at trial and negotiating favorable plea bargains with prosecutors. We provide highly personalized attention to each case we take and strive to achieve the best possible results for our clients.
What Is a Plea Bargain?
Before knowing the pros and cons of accepting a plea bargain, it is important to understand what a plea bargain is. A plea bargain is an agreement between a prosecutor and the defendant in a criminal law proceeding. In the agreement, the defendant pleads guilty or no contest in exchange for a concession provided by the prosecutor. Examples of concessions in plea bargains include:
Dropping one or more charges
Reducing a criminal charge to a less serious offense
Agreeing on the sentence that will be recommended to the judge
According to a Statistical Report for the Texas Judiciary, an estimated 95% of criminal convictions in Texas are by plea.
How Are Plea Bargains Made?
While plea bargaining can be initiated at any stage of the criminal process, the prosecution can offer a plea bargain shortly after the defendant’s arrest and before filing criminal charges. Negotiations over a proposed plea bargain can be initiated by either the defendant (and their defense attorney) or the prosecutor.
However, even if the plea bargain is made, the judge may decide not to follow the prosecution’s recommendations because judges are not bound by plea bargains. In many cases, the judge must approve plea bargains before they become enforceable.
Often, a prosecutor will not offer a plea bargain at all. In this case, the defendant may need to consult with a criminal defense attorney who would negotiate a plea agreement on their behalf.
Pros and Cons of a Plea Bargain
If you are considering accepting a plea bargain, you need to weigh the pros and cons of that decision. Some of the possible advantages of accepting a plea bargain include:
Your charge may have a lighter sentence or be reduced. Depending on the details of your plea agreement, you may get a lighter sentence or receive reduced charges in exchange for pleading guilty or no contest. It means you could get less time behind bars or have charges reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor.
Your case will be over. Your case will be over when you accept a plea bargain and plead guilty or no contest before the judge. If you do not accept the plea agreement, your case will go to trial, and you will not know what outcomes and sentencing to expect.
The potential disadvantages of accepting a plea bargain include:
You cannot plead “not guilty.” The prosecution does not give you the option to plead “not guilty” in the plea agreement. Instead, you plead either guilty or no contest. Often, prosecutors are willing to make concessions through plea bargaining because they know there are certain problems or weaknesses in their cases against the defendant. In other words, the prosecution may not be able to secure a conviction against you if your case goes to trial, which is why they offer you a plea bargain in the first place.
You could be coerced into accepting the deal. Often, defendants who are not represented by a criminal defense attorney are pressured into accepting a plea agreement, even when the agreement is not aligned with their best interests. To avoid this, consider consulting with a skilled defense attorney before accepting a plea bargain, no matter what the prosecution tells you.
You will have a criminal record. By accepting a plea bargain and pleading guilty or no contest, you also accept the fact that you will have a criminal record. If you take your case to trial with an experienced defense attorney on your side, you may have a chance of proving your innocence and being acquitted, which means the offense you are accused of will never appear on your criminal record.
Consider contacting a criminal defense attorney to review your specific case and discuss the pros and cons of accepting a plea bargain in your particular situation.
Types of Plea Bargains
Depending on the charges and the circumstances of the offense, a prosecutor may offer different types of plea bargains when negotiating a plea agreement with the defendant:
Charge bargaining. The defendant may be asked to plead to an offense that is less serious than the original charge.
Count bargaining. The defendant may be offered to plead to only one or more of the charges in exchange for dropping the other charges.
Sentence bargaining. In sentence bargaining, the defendant and the prosecution agree on the sentence that will be recommended by the prosecution to the judge.
Fact bargaining. The defendant may be asked to plead to an offense in exchange for omitting certain facts from the case.
Your strategy for negotiating a plea agreement will differ depending on the circumstances of your case. That is why you may need experienced guidance from a defense attorney to help you negotiate a favorable plea bargain. At Madson Castello Law, we have more than 30 years of combined experience successfully defending clients in Dallas and throughout North Texas.
Trusted Experience When You Need It Most
At Madson Castello Law, our attorneys have tried more than 300 cases to a jury and obtained favorable plea bargains on behalf of our clients. We help clients improve the outcomes of their cases through plea bargaining. If you are considering negotiating or accepting a plea bargain, consult with our criminal defense attorneys to understand your options. Reach out to our office today and tell us about your situation.