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Plea Bargaining Cases
The vast majority of criminal cases are resolved through a “plea bargaining cases”, usually well before the case reaches trial. In a plea bargaining cases, the defendant agrees to plead guilty, usually to a lesser charge than one for which the defendant could stand trial, in exchange for a more lenient sentence, and/or so that certain related charges are dismissed. For both the government and the defendant, the decision to enter into (or not enter into) plea bargaining cases may be based on the seriousness of the alleged crime, the strength of the evidence in the case, and the prospects of a guilty verdict at trial. Plea bargaining cases are generally encouraged by the court system, and have become something of a necessity due to overburdened criminal court calendars and overcrowded jails.
What Kind Of Plea Bargaining Cases Might Be Made?
To illustrate how a “plea bargain” might be reached in a criminal case: suppose Dan is arrested and charged with two counts of aggravated assault/battery, based on his alleged use of a baseball bat in a street fight. A “plea bargain” might be reached in Dan’s case in one of three ways:
- The prosecuting attorney handling the case approaches Dan and his attorney, and offers to allow Dan to plead guilty to a less serious charge, such as simple assault/battery or even disorderly conduct; or
- Dan agrees to plead guilty to one charge or “count” of aggravated assault/battery, in exchange for dismissal of the second count; or
- The government’s evidence against Dan is so strong, and the injuries suffered by the assault victim so serious, that Dan agrees to plead guilty to the original charge of aggravated assault/battery, in exchange for a less severe sentence than he would likely receive if a jury found him guilty at trial.
Plea bargaining cases actually involves three areas of negotiation:
- Charge Bargaining. This is a common and widely known form of plea. It involves a negotiation of the specific charges (counts) or crimes that the defendant will face at trial. Usually, in return for a plea of “guilty” to a lesser charge, a prosecutor will dismiss the higher or other charge(s) or counts. For example, in return for dismissing charges for first-degree murder, a prosecutor may accept a “guilty” plea for manslaughter (subject to court approval).
- Sentence Bargaining. Sentence bargaining involves the agreement to a plea of guilty (for the stated charge rather than a reduced charge) in return for a lighter sentence. It saves the prosecution the necessity of going through trial and proving its case. It provides the defendant with an opportunity for a lighter sentence.
- Fact Bargaining. The least used negotiation involves an admission to certain facts (“stipulating “to the truth and existence of provable facts, thereby eliminating the need for the prosecutor to have to prove them) in return for an agreement not to introduce certain other facts into evidence.
The validity of plea bargaining cases is dependent upon three essential components:
- a knowing waiver of rights
- a voluntary waiver
- a factual basis to support the charges to which the defendant is pleading guilty
Plea bargaining cases is not as simple as it may first appear. In effectively negotiating a criminal plea arrangement, the attorney must have the technical knowledge of every “element” of a crime or charge, an understanding of the actual or potential evidence that exists or could be developed, a technical knowledge of “lesser included offenses” versus separate counts or crimes, and a reasonable understanding of sentencing guidelines.
If you have any questions about plea bargaining cases in San Diego contact San Diego Criminal Defense Attorney Vik Monder at 619.405.0063 or visit San Diego Criminal Defense