In a criminal proceeding, plea bargaining is the process wherein an agreement is formed between the prosecution and the defense regarding the charges that are brought against the accused. Usually, the prosecution will offer to drop or reduce some of the charges in exchange for a guilty plea or a no contest plea from the defendant.
Agreements reached during plea bargaining are subject to the approval of the court, and there are various laws governing the regulation of it. These laws often vary from state to state in terms of how and when they can be resorted to. In federal cases, the Federal Sentencing Guidelines regulate the process.
When Plea Bargaining May Be Entered Into
Plea bargaining can be entered any time from the moment of arrest up until an official verdict is read. However, it is usually more advantageous for the defendant to seek plea bargaining before they have been charged with the offense(s). This is because the person sometimes may not be able to have charges dropped or reduced after the charges have been formally filed.
Also, it is better to seek plea bargaining at the beginning of trial, so that the accused does not have to waste valuable time and resources sitting through the entire length of the trial. Thus, for the criminally accused, it is best to retain an attorney without delay so that they have the option of plea bargaining as early as possible in the proceedings.
There are basically three different types of plea bargaining. The first two are the most commonly employed:
- Charge bargaining: the defendant pleads guilty to a less serious charge than the one initially imposed. For example, a prosecutor may offer to have the charges reduced from felony theft charge to misdemeanor theft. This would effectively eliminate a prison sentence.