Plea Bargaining: What’s it All About?


When you are charged with a criminal offense, legal representation often makes a big difference upon the outcome. The legal system is open to everyone, but like most everything, those who know how to navigate the system obtain the best results.

In many cases involving more minor charges like assault, drug possession, theft and traffic violations, there is a good chance that an attorney can help you negotiate a plea bargain and keep the allegation off your record. Plea bargaining is an attractive option for criminal defendants. That’s because trials are expensive and unpredictable. However, a plea bargain provides the prosecution and defendant with control over the result.

The American criminal justice system relies on most cases ending in a plea bargain in order to function. Therefore, judges don’t have time to try the vast majority of cases. Prosecutors also manage far more cases than they could ever hope to try. Plea bargains save prosecutors time, which they depend on.

Because the prosecution is in such a need to plea bargain cases, defendants have an opportunity to receive excellent deals. It’s not worth taking the deal in every case, but when the prosecution makes a good offer, I typically recommend that defendants take it. The advantages are often significant:

  • Resolve the case quickly
  • Save money
  • Get out of jail and stay out of jail
  • Clean or reduced criminal record

For a recent example, look at the Paris Hilton arrest and prosecution in Las Vegas. Miss Hilton was facing felony cocaine charges after being caught in Vegas with cocaine in her purse. With the help of her attorney, Hilton was able to plead guilty to 2 misdemeanors, do 200 hours of community service, unsupervised probation and no jail time. With a deal like that, who would want to risk a trial?

5 Responses

Thanks for your post. I have many questions on plea bargaining. Do you know how plea bargain deals in the states compare to deals in Europe? I am wondering especially about US vs. UK. Thanks!

  • Hi Adam,

    Thanks for your question. That would make for an interesting post, perhaps I’ll do that down the road. In general, as I recall, prior to 2005 or so, defendants in the UK typically received 1/3 off their sentence for a guilty plea. That changed to about half of that, or 1/6th off after a new crime law was passed.

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