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The Basics of Plea Bargains

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If you are facing criminal charges in Washington state, you will need to attend a number of hearings and meetings after your arrest and before a criminal trial. The prosecutor handling your case may offer you a plea bargain in exchange for certain benefits — but it is important that you understand the basics of these agreements before you accept an offer.

What Is a Plea Bargain?

A plea bargain is a type of agreement between the prosecution and the defense in a criminal case. Under this agreement, you agree to plead guilty or no contest in exchange for certain benefits from the prosecution, like reduced or dropped charges. The purpose of a plea bargain is to accomplish two goals: to help reduce your potential criminal charges and avoid trial, and to allow the prosecution to preserve resources and guarantee the case’s outcome.

Plea agreements are only appropriate for certain cases, and it may be in your best interest to go to trial. Always consult with your criminal defense attorney before accepting any offers or making any statements about your charges.

Types of Plea Bargains

There are multiple types of plea bargains a prosecutor may offer.

  • Charge bargaining involves reducing the charges you are facing. The prosecutor may ask you to plead guilty to a less serious crime, rather than a more severe charge that can result in worse penalties.
  • Count bargaining is a type of charge bargaining, and is appropriate for situations where you are facing multiple charges. Under this agreement, the prosecutor will drop certain charges if you plead guilty to the rest of them.
  • Sentence bargaining involves the potential consequences you may face if you receive a criminal conviction. You, your attorney, and the prosecution will agree to a recommended sentence, and the prosecutor will ask you to plead not guilty or no contest after you accept the plea bargain.
  • Fact bargaining is a more complex type of plea bargain. In this agreement, the prosecutor will ask you to plead guilty or no contest in exchange for the omission of facts that would lead to a more severe sentence.

The Advantages of a Plea Bargain

Plea bargains provide a number of advantages for Washington residents facing trial, but only under certain circumstances. While entering the courtroom may be the best option in some cases, trials can be unnecessarily stressful and risky in others.

Your defense attorney will need to present the facts of your case in front of a jury of strangers, while combating the claims of the prosecution at the same time, which can be difficult if the evidence against you is strong. Trials may also take weeks to conclude, and you cannot guarantee the outcome.

A trial may result in a harsher sentence than a plea agreement, especially in cases where you are likely to receive a guilty verdict. Accepting a plea bargain beforehand, however, may reduce potential prison sentences, as well as conclude your case faster than if you proceeded to trial. It is important to remember that plea bargains are only acceptable if they present the optimal pathway to the best possible outcome in your case. Your attorney may advise you to proceed with a criminal trial, depending on your circumstances. If you receive a plea bargain offer from a Washington prosecutor, contact your criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible.

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