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What is a plea bargain?

Plea bargains are commonly used throughout the criminal justice system which is why it is important for individuals who have been accused of crimes to understand what they are. Most individuals are familiar with the term plea bargain but may wonder exactly what that means. In general, plea bargains refer to agreements accused individuals make with the prosecution which may involve pleading guilty to certain charges in exchange for concessions the prosecution may make related to penalties or the charges they are facing.

While the prosecution may agree to reduce the accused individual's punishment, or agree to recommend a reduced sentence to the judge, in exchange for a plea bargain, the prosecution may also reduce the number of charges or the severity of charges the accused individual is facing. Because a significant number of criminal cases end in plea bargains, it is a necessary part of the criminal justice process for accused individuals to understand.

The plea bargain process is important to understand because the accused individual's future and freedom may be resting on it. In some circumstances, judges may not be required to adhere to any sentencing recommendation and judges also play an important role in the plea bargaining process ensuring the accused individual understands the agreement they are entering.

Because plea bargains are integral to the criminal justice system, it is essential for accused individuals to understand the process as one option that is part of their criminal defense rights and options. There are many options, the best of which depends on the situation and circumstances, for a criminal defense response when facing criminal charges which is why accused individuals should be familiar with all of their criminal defense options and plea bargains in general.

Source: Cornell Law School Legal Information, "Plea Bargain," Accessed March 12, 2018

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