A plea bargain is a deal between the prosecution and defendant. A plea bargain is where a person admits guilt in exchange for a benefit in return.
There are two ways to resolve a criminal case – either through a plea or by challenge by defendant, such as motions or trial.
A plea bargain is the most common type of resolution. This is because a plea bargain provides the defendant with certainty about the outcome and known benefits. This is in contrast to a trial, in which you may win and walk away, or lose and make the situation worse than it would have been with a plea bargain.
While plea bargains are common, a plea bargain might not be how your case is resolved, discussed more below.
Common Types of Plea Bargains
There are several types of common plea bargains.
First, a plea bargain may involve an admission of guilt to a crime in exchange for a promise by the prosecutor or judge to dismiss the case upon the completion of a successful probation period. This is an attractive resolution to many people. In many cases, the evidence of guilt is overwhelming and could be easily proven in trial. You may not have any grounds to contest the case. In these situations, it would be great to ensure that a mistake or one-time bad situation does not result in a conviction.
This type of resolution is not available for all types of charges.
Second, a plea bargain might involve a dismissal of a more serious charge in exchange for a guilty plea to a less serious charge.
For example, let’s say you are charged with felonious assault, which is a felony. A good plea bargain resolution might be a guilty plea to a misdemeanor assault. This is in exchange for a dismissal of the felony. The benefit here is relieving you of the felony conviction, and instead receiving a misdemeanor, which is less serious.
Third, a plea bargain might might involve an agreement between you and the judge or prosecutor to a particular sentence. This is called a sentence agreement, or in Michigan, as a Killibrew agreement. The benefit here is you know exactly what will happen at sentencing. This is most important when a person is facing jail or prison time. A sentence agreement might be that you will receive no upfront jail. Or a sentence agreement could be to a particular minimum sentence for someone facing serious prison time. These types of agreements prevent any surprises at sentencing.
Is a Plea Bargain Right for Me?
While plea bargains are common for the reasons above, a plea bargain might not be for you. Remember there are two ways to resolve a case – through a plea or by challenge to the case. The way a case is resolved is up to you, the client, and not the attorney.
There are many reasons why a plea bargain might not be the way to go. Actual innocence would be the first reason that comes to mind. Of course, you shouldn’t plead guilty to something you absolutely did not do.
A second reason would be the prosecution doesn’t have the evidence to prove the charge against you. Let’s say you’re charged with drunk driving and the police measured your blood alcohol content by taking your blood. Let’s further say an error occurred while taking the blood which leads to the blood test being suppressed as evidence. In this case, the prosecutor might have a difficult time proving you committed the crime. You may want to consider a challenge to the case under these circumstances rather than plead guilty.
A third reason to not plea is where a plea bargain really makes no difference. Perhaps the prosecution doesn’t offer a satisfactory plea bargain. Maybe a plea according to the bargain would have the same result as a plea to the crime as charged. For example, the lesser charge in the plea bargain is substantively the same as the crime charged. In this case, a potential loss at trial would be very similar to the result of the plea bargain. You may want to consider going to trial in this case to see if you can obtain a better result.
The types of plea bargains discussed above and the potential reasons to reject a plea bargain are but a few examples. There are many different situations out there. Speak to a lawyer about your options.
Sam Bernstein is a Washtenaw County Criminal Defense Attorney.
ArborYpsi Law is located at 4158 Washtenaw Ave., Ann Arbor, MI 48108.