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Should I enter into a plea bargain?

A previous blog post discussed plea bargaining - a strategy for defendants who wish to avoid trial, have certain charges dismissed or receive a lesser sentence. This is typically accomplished through three areas of plea negotiation: charge bargaining, sentence bargaining and fact bargaining. There are many considerations for defendants deciding whether to waive their right to a jury trial and enter into a plea bargain.

Plea bargaining is very common; over 90 percent of convictions are from negotiated pleas rather than from jury verdicts. Defendants who wish to receive a lighter sentence, to plead to a lesser crime or to have fewer offenses listed on their criminal record may benefit from plea negotiation. Also, defendants may wish to accept a plea bargain in order to avoid a lengthy and costly trial.

Plea bargains promote judicial economy. Judges may be eager to accept plea bargains due to their often-overloaded dockets. They may also be willing to allow certain defendants who would not likely serve a long sentence to be processed out so that they do not contribute to prison overcrowding.

Prosecutors may also be willing to engage in plea bargaining because they will be assured a conviction without having to take their chances at criminal trial. Also, plea bargains may help prosecutors strengthen their cases against co-defendants. Therefore, they may be willing to accept a plea bargain from one defendant in exchange for his testimony against another defendant.

The decision of whether to accept a plea bargain depends on many factors such as the circumstances of the case, the defendant's criminal history and the chances of winning at trial. It is in defendants' best interests to consult with an attorney who can give legal advice regarding the best strategy for their criminal defense.

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