What Is a Plea Bargain?In the world of criminal justice and defense, there’s a term that often comes up: “plea bargain.” But what exactly is a plea bargain, and why does it matter? In simple terms, a plea bargain is a deal made between a person accused of a crime (the defendant) and the prosecution. This agreement allows the defendant to plead guilty to a lesser charge or receive a lighter sentence in exchange for avoiding a trial. Let’s break down the concept of plea bargains in a way that’s easy to understand.

The basics of plea bargaining

A plea bargain is like a negotiation between the person accused of a crime (the defendant, or you) and the prosecutor, who represents the government. Instead of going through a full trial, the defendant agrees to admit guilt to a certain charge or accepts a less severe punishment. This negotiation happens intending to reach a compromise that benefits both sides.

Types of plea bargains

There are three basic types of plea bargains:

  1. Charge bargaining: The defendant agrees to plead guilty to a less serious charge than the one they were originally accused of.
  2. Sentence bargaining: The focus here is on the punishment. The defendant pleads guilty in exchange for a lighter sentence.
  3. Fact bargaining: The defendant agrees to certain facts related to the case, making the trial process smoother by avoiding disagreements over those facts.

The plea bargain process

Understanding how a plea bargain works involves looking at the step-by-step process.

Initial negotiations

The process begins with discussions between your lawyer (that’s me) and the prosecutor. We talk about the case’s strengths and weaknesses, potential evidence, and other factors. This is like the opening round of a negotiation.

Charge reduction

If the negotiations go well, the prosecutor might agree to reduce the severity of the charges. For example, if you were originally charged with a serious crime, the prosecutor might be open to lowering it to a less serious offense.

Sentence agreement

Next, the prosecutor and I work on deciding what kind of punishment the defendant will accept. This could involve less jail time, community service, or other alternatives to a strict prison sentence.

Presentation to the court

Once both sides reach an agreement, we present it to the court. The judge reviews the plea bargain and decides whether to accept or reject it. If accepted, you go forward with the agreed-upon plea.


If the plea bargain is accepted, you receive the agreed-upon punishment. It’s important to note that failing to follow the terms of the agreement can lead to the original, more severe charges being reinstated.

Advantages of plea bargains

Plea bargains have advantages that benefit both the legal system and the individuals involved.

  • Court congestion: Trials can take a long time, and courts often have many cases to handle. Plea bargains help courts move more efficiently by resolving cases without going through the entire trial process.
  • Time and money: Trials require a lot of resources, including time, money, and personnel. Plea bargains save these resources, allowing the legal system to allocate them more effectively.
  • Predictable outcomes: With a plea bargain, both sides know what to expect. This predictability is valuable for planning and understanding the likely outcome of the case.
  • Mitigation of penalties: Defendants can often get lighter sentences through plea bargains compared to what they might face if the case went to trial and they were found guilty.
  • Risk mitigation: Trials carry risks, and there’s always uncertainty about the outcome. Plea bargains allow defendants to mitigate these risks by agreeing to a known outcome.

Criticisms of plea bargains

However, not everyone sees plea bargains in a positive light. Some criticisms and concerns have been raised.

  • Pressured decisions: Critics argue that defendants may feel pressured or coerced into accepting plea deals, especially if they don’t have the resources for a strong legal defense. This could lead to innocent people pleading guilty.
  • Socioeconomic impact: There’s a concern that individuals with limited financial means might be more likely to accept plea deals due to the financial strain of a prolonged legal battle. This could contribute to inequalities in the legal system.
  • Innocent defendants: There’s a risk that innocent individuals might accept guilty pleas to avoid the uncertainties of trial, leading to wrongful convictions.
  • Incentives to plead guilty: Defendants may feel pressure to plead guilty, even if they believe they are innocent, to avoid the potential severe consequences of a trial and the risk of a more substantial sentence.

Should I take a plea bargain?

There are a variety of factors you should take into account when making the decision to plea bargain, not the least of which is consulting with an experienced Annapolis criminal defense attorney like me.

  • Legal advice: Consult with an attorney (me!) with an in-depth knowledge of criminal defense. I can evaluate the specific details of your case, explain the potential consequences of accepting the plea bargain versus going to trial, and provide personalized advice based on their expertise.
  • Strength of the case: Assess the strength of the prosecution’s case against you. If the evidence is strong and there is a risk of a more severe outcome at trial, a plea bargain might be a practical option.
  • Potential penalties: Understand the potential penalties you might face if you go to trial and are convicted versus the penalties offered in the plea bargain. Consider the impact on your life, such as the length of imprisonment, fines, probation, and other consequences.
  • Innocence or weaknesses in the case: If you believe you are innocent or there are weaknesses in the prosecution’s case, do not hesitate to discuss these aspects with me. I can help you determine whether it’s in your best interest to proceed to trial to challenge the charges.
  • Collateral consequences: Consider any collateral consequences of a conviction, such as impacts on employment, housing, and future opportunities. Sometimes, a plea bargain may offer a way to minimize these collateral consequences.
  • Negotiation skills: As a skilled and experienced negotiator, I will work to secure more favorable plea deals on your behalf.
  • Court resources and delays: Factor in the resources and time involved in going to trial. Courts can be congested, and trials may lead to delays. A plea bargain can expedite the resolution of your case.
  • Personal tolerance for risk: Evaluate your personal tolerance for risk. What we mean here is that going to trial carries uncertainties, and there is always the possibility of an acquittal or a more severe outcome. A plea bargain offers a known outcome.
  • Consequences of a guilty plea: Understand that pleading guilty, even with a plea bargain, means admitting to the offense. This admission can have implications for your record, and you should be aware of the long-term consequences.

At the end of the day, the decision to take a plea bargain is highly individual and depends on the unique circumstances of your case. You must have open and honest communication with your attorney, weigh the pros and cons carefully, and make an informed decision based on your best interests.

At Drew Cochran, Attorney at Law, I can sit down with you and go over all the aspects of your case. Together we can decide if a plea bargain is a viable option, and I will protect your rights every step of the way. I never ask you to make a decision without outlining every possible outcome. To talk about your case, call me today in Annapolis or Ellicott City, or use my contact form to get started.

Just remember — Keep Calm, and Call Drew!