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Understanding plea bargains

If you face criminal charges in Oklahoma, you likely are nervous about the prospect of going to trial and putting your fate in the hands of a jury. As you attorney may have told you, however, the majority of American criminal cases never get to the trial stage. Instead, defendants may accept a plea bargain. It is possible that the prosecutor may offer you a plea bargain, too.

A plea bargain is an agreement negotiated between the prosecutor who represents the government’s interests and your attorney who represents your interests. Naturally each of them wants to make the best “deal” possible for the side (s)he represents given the circumstances of your case. You, of course, have the ultimate choice as to whether or not you accept whatever bargain they arrive at.

The three basic types of plea bargains are the following:

  1. Charge bargain: The prosecutor reduces the charges against you and you plead guilty to the reduced charges.
  2. Sentence bargain: You plead guilty to the charges against you and the prosecutor recommends that the judge gives you a lighter sentence.
  3. Fact bargain: You agree to stipulate that certain facts relevant to your case are true, and the prosecutor agrees not to bring up certain other facts in court.

Be aware that if you agree to a sentence bargain, the judge is not obligated to follow whatever sentencing recommendation the prosecutor presents to him or her. Instead, (s)he can give you the sentence (s)he believes you deserve.

Plea bargain advantages

As you might expect, each plea bargain has its own advantages and disadvantages. You should thoroughly discuss any proposed plea bargain with your attorney before accepting it. Make sure you fully understand what you will be agreeing to, what you must therefore do and what the consequences will be.

On the plus side, a plea bargain saves you the time and expense of a possibly lengthy trial. It also gives you the certainty of knowing what to expect. Going to trial is always a chancy proposition. No one can predict who will serve on your jury or whether those jurors will acquit or convict you.

Plea bargain disadvantages

On the minus side, you have a constitutional right to a trial by a jury of your peers. This is a highly valuable right that you should not lightly give up. In addition, a charge or sentence plea bargain obligates you to plead guilty to one or more crimes in open court. By voluntarily admitting your own guilt, you become a convicted criminal. If you plead guilty to a felony, this conviction can follow you for the rest of your life, making it difficult if not impossible for you to obtain certain jobs. Your guilty plea likewise makes it virtually possible for you to later change your mind, rescind the plea bargain and reverse your conviction on appeal.

Again, it is critical that you fully discuss the pros and cons of any proposed plea bargain with your attorney. (S)he is the only person fighting for your rights; consequently (s)he is the person in the best position to give you the best advice.

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