Being charged with a crime is an overwhelming situation that can turn a person's life upside down and put all their future plans and dreams on hold – possibly for an indefinite period of time. In certain cases, a person charged with a crime may be given the option to take a plea bargain instead of going to trial. Our Sherman Oaks criminal defense attorneys explain how plea bargains work in California and how an attorney can help you make the right decision for your case.
A plea bargain is a type of agreement made between the prosecutor and a defendant. Instead of going to trial, a defendant charged with a crime agrees to plead guilty in exchange for an advantage, which can be lesser charges or reduced sentences. A plea bargain can also give the defendant the opportunity to have other additional charges dropped. Once the defendant accepts the plea bargain, the defendant is automatically convicted of their charges and will serve their sentence without having to go to trial or appear before a jury.
In California, there are two different types of plea bargains available. A charge bargain can occur when the defense attorneys are able to negotiate a lesser sentence. For example, if someone was charged with vehicular homicide after driving while intoxicated and accidentally killing someone, an attorney may be able to convince the prosecution to downgrade the charges to vehicular manslaughter.
In contrast, a sentence bargain can happen when the defendant agrees to the charges in exchange for a reduced or more lenient sentence. For example, instead of risking receiving the maximum sentence for their offense, the defendant may plead guilty to the charges and be able to avoid jail time or spend less time in jail and go on probation. Each case is different, so always speak to an attorney to get advice on your specific case.
Plea bargain offers can happen at any point before the trial and are usually a result of negotiations between the defense attorneys and the prosecution. In many cases, the defense attorney may approach the prosecutor and propose a plea bargain on behalf of their client when they believe their client would have a better outcome for their case by avoiding trial. In other cases, the prosecution may take the first step and offer a plea bargain to a defendant in exchange for information that could help the investigation of a larger crime, such as the defendant's contact person in a criminal organization or drug cartel.
Plea bargain offers typically take place early in the process during pre-trial proceedings or at any point before the trial date. Some plea bargains may have an expiration date attached to it, meaning the defendant needs to make a decision and accept it or decline it before the expiration date. It is worth mentioning that once the trial reaches the point when the jury hands over a verdict to the judge, plea bargains are no longer allowed.
If you are facing criminal charges and have received a plea bargain offer, it is crucial to thoroughly discuss it with your attorney before making the decision of accepting it or rejecting it and taking your chances by going to trial. There are several advantages and disadvantages associated with a plea bargain, and the specifics of your case will dictate whether or not a plea bargain would be in your best interest.
Some of the key advantages of a plea bargain are the possibility of avoiding the maximum sentence for the crime you are being charged with, as well as potentially de-escalating your charges by pleading guilty to a less serious crime. It may also be a way to help a defendant avoid aggravated charges for their case. Because your case won't go to trial, it will take less time to resolve and may result in lower legal fees and court costs. On the other hand, accepting a plea bargain means you will automatically be found guilty and will have a criminal record, which could affect you in the future and limit your opportunities in terms of employment, education, and housing.
When you are facing criminal charges, making the decision of whether to accept a plea bargain or take your chances by going to trial is perhaps one of the most difficult decisions a defendant may ever have to face, as it can determine what will happen to them and their future. The only person who can give you advice on whether to accept a plea bargain or turn it down is your criminal defense attorney.
In general, a criminal defense attorney may recommend their client to accept a plea bargain when they do not believe the client's case would do well in court. If the prosecution has strong evidence against the defendant and the jury is convinced that the defendant committed the crime as described by the prosecution, the defendant may be at risk of being charged and receiving the maximum sentence, making a plea bargain offer a safer choice. However, if the defendant does not want to plead guilty to a crime because they want to prove their innocence and the case is likely to do well in trial, refusing the plea bargain may be a reasonable option.
In the end, there is no right answer, as each case is unique. If you are facing charges, have received a plea bargain, or need legal advice and representation, contact the Hurwitz Law Group at 323-310-9677 to discuss your case.