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What is negotiable if you seek a plea deal?

If you’ve been charged with a serious crime, seeking a plea deal with prosecutors can be a way to minimize the legal consequences if you have some legal culpability. However, it’s crucial to understand where’s there’s room for negotiation and how reaching a plea deal or “plea bargaining” works.

The vast majority of criminal convictions follow a plea deal rather than a trial. Because prosecutors have an incentive to avoid the time, the cost and the uncertain outcome of a trial, they’re often willing to negotiate with a defendant. Let’s look at the two elements of a case that are most commonly negotiated.

The charge

The charge is the most common bargaining chip. Often a defendant will plead guilty to a lesser charge than the one they’re facing. For example, depending on the circumstances, a murder charge could potentially be reduced to manslaughter. A felony charge could be reduced to a misdemeanor. The latter can have an effect on your ability to get a job in the future.

The sentence

Reducing the charge typically means a person will receive a lighter sentence. However, if that’s the defendant’s main concern, they may be willing to plead guilty to the charge they’re facing with an agreement that they’ll receive a sentence on the low end of what the law allows. For example, they may be able to get their sentence reduced to time served. They may be able to get probation or house arrest. 

For a sex-related crime, the bargaining may involve whether they are placed on the sex offender registry. That can have a significant impact on a person’s future.

Is a plea deal appropriate?

No one should ever be coerced into a plea deal. Everyone is entitled to their day in court where the prosecution has to prove their case and they’re entitled to present a defense. For both the defendant and the prosecution, a jury trial can be a gamble. 

If you’re facing serious charges, it’s crucial to have experienced legal guidance to help you decide what’s best for you. If you do seek a plea deal, never negotiate on your own.