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How Do Plea Deals Work?

A decision between a trial and a plea bargain illustrated with chalk on a street.

Plea deals represent a vital element of the criminal justice system, and they provide an alternative to full-length trial proceedings. Through this legal tool, it is possible to expedite judicial proceedings and even secure lesser penalties. Before accepting a plea bargain, it is important to grasp exactly “How do plea deals work?” and understand the long-term consequences of this choice. At Friedman & Bresaw, PLLC, we leverage decades of experience and robust legal knowledge to help defendants make informed decisions based on the unique circumstances of each case. We are dedicated to protecting our clients’ interests and will advocate for their rights at every step of the plea bargaining process. To discuss pending cases with our criminal defense attorneys in New Hampshire, consider contacting us at (603) 707-4800 today.

What Is a Plea Deal?

A plea deal occurs when a defendant and the prosecution negotiate an agreement that requires the defendant to plead guilty to a lesser offense in exchange for a more lenient sentence. According to the Bureau of Justice Assistance, the majority of plea deals are agreed upon before cases reach trial. A plea deal may be mutually beneficial, allowing prosecutors to efficiently resolve cases while offering defendants reduced or commuted sentences compared to the legal consequences they might face if convicted of the more severe offenses with which they are charged.

What Happens When You Agree to a Plea Deal?

When a defendant in New Hampshire agrees to a plea deal, they can expect to stand up in court and admit that they have violated the law. The prosecutor will then make a recommendation to the judge about the terms of the plea deal. Judges maintain discretion in these situations, and they can choose to accept or reject the proposed agreement.

A plea deal is essentially a contract between the prosecution and the defendant. This means that if the prosecutor does not follow through with the conditions of the plea bargain, the defendant may be able to seek relief – including the withdrawal of their guilty plea altogether. Similarly, the prosecution can disregard the terms of the agreement if the defendant fails to uphold their end of the deal. The success of each plea deal depends on this degree of mutual respect.

How Are Plea Bargains Determined?

Defendants and prosecutors determine the details of plea bargains through extensive and strategic negotiation. The goal of the prosecution is to secure a suitable criminal conviction without going to trial. The defense, on the other hand, seeks the outcome most favorable to the defendant. 

How Do I Negotiate a Plea Deal?

Both sides will typically engage in a series of offers and counteroffers, with trial as the expected deadline for the negotiations. If the prosecution has a particularly strong case, they may be unlikely to offer many concessions. If the prosecution has a relatively weak case, the defense may have a great deal of leverage to sway the negotiation in their favor.

What Is the Timeline for a Plea Deal?

The timeline of a plea bargain negotiation will vary from case to case, with some simpler cases generally resolving faster than more complex cases. Once both sides agree to the plea deal, the trial can be canceled and the case may proceed directly to a sentencing hearing. If the judge is satisfied that the defendant has voluntarily accepted the plea bargain, they may impose the terms of the deal. The New Hampshire criminal defense attorneys with Friedman & Bresaw, PLLC, advocate for clients and pursue agreements that minimize consequences to ensure defendants participating in plea bargains have the best possible opportunities for their futures.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Plea Bargaining?

Acknowledging the pros and cons of plea bargaining is important, as understanding “How do plea deals work?” will help defendants make informed, rational decisions. Keep in mind that each situation is slightly different, and plea bargaining may make more sense in some cases than in others. 

The Benefits of Plea Bargains

Plea bargaining can be highly beneficial in many cases, potentially shaving decades off sentences. Some of the most notable benefits of accepting a plea bargain include: 

  • Lessening criminal charges
  • Serving a lighter sentence
  • Reducing fines
  • Accessing alternative sentencing programs, such as drug abuse treatment
  • Saving time and money
  • Avoiding the stress and uncertainty of trial

For many defendants, certainty is a key motivator in accepting plea bargains. Litigation is a highly unpredictable process, and a plea bargain may offer guaranteed avoidance of a particularly harsh sentence. 

The Disadvantages of Plea Bargains

While plea bargaining has its advantages, there are also numerous potential downsides. Perhaps the most obvious disadvantage is the loss of a trial. Evidence laid against the defendant may be highly unreliable or even inadmissible in court, and the case may be easier to win than prosecutors imply. Here are some of the most notable potential disadvantages of plea deals:

  • Establishment of a criminal record, even if innocent
  • No opportunity to have the case decided by a jury
  • According to the Department of Justice, a plea bargain makes appeals impossible
  • Potential of coercion

In the end, it is difficult to determine the true pros and cons of a plea deal without examining the specific circumstances at hand. Many defendants work with experienced defense attorneys to assess these unique factors and evaluate the potential benefit of a plea deal. 

Is a Plea Deal a Good Thing?

Plea bargaining is one of the most controversial subjects in the United States legal system. For every person who cites benefits, there is likely to be another who counters with a disadvantage. Some say that plea bargaining pressures a defendant into giving up their Constitutional right to trial by a jury of their peers. Critics point out that defendants should not be punished for seeking a trial. Proponents might argue that this is exactly what happens when someone rejects a plea deal, fails to win a trial, and subsequently receives a maximum sentence. 

Plea deals offer the potential for reduced periods of incarceration. They may also eliminate incarceration altogether, replacing it with rehabilitation treatment, educational programs, or community service. A plea deal can also help defendants avoid the public scrutiny of a trial, and this may prove attractive to those with public personas. 

Speak With an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney

Navigating the complex landscape of the criminal justice system can be challenging, especially when deciding whether or not to accept a plea deal. An experienced New Hampshire criminal defense attorney with Friedman & Bresaw, PLLC may be in a position to provide an objective, informed perspective on this complex issue. Defendants may be able to use these insights to accept or reject a plea bargain while considering the legal implications of a guilty plea on their records. To schedule a free consultation and get a criminal defense lawyer’s answer to “How do plea deals work?” call (603) 707-4800 today. 

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About the Attorney
Jesse Friedman

Jesse has personally represented thousands of clients throughout the State - from juvenile delinquency offenses through homicides. He has extensive trial and litigation experience and has obtained favorable outcomes for thousands of clients throughout the years.

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