Even if you only have the most cursory knowledge of legal proceedings, you’ve probably heard the term “plea bargain” once or twice.
It’s easy enough to extrapolate the basics of what a plea bargain implies, but how much do you actually know about what happens after you accept a plea bargain? What do the next steps look like?
Accepting a plea bargain puts you in a unique legal position and initiates a whole series of consequential events. Let’s take a look at how it works.
What Is A Plea Bargain?
A plea bargain is a deal offered to a defendant by the prosecution in a criminal case. Typically, this deal will exchange reduced sentencing or conviction on a lesser charge for the defendant pleading guilty or no contest and waiving their right to a trial.
For example, if a defendant is facing multiple charges from the same incident, the prosecution may offer a plea bargain wherein the more severe charges are dropped if the defendant pleads guilty or no contest to the lesser charge.
Or if a defendant is facing a single charge, the prosecution may offer a plea bargain wherein the length or severity of the sentencing is reduced in exchange for a guilty plea.
What Happens When You Accept A Plea Bargain?
In the process of accepting a plea bargain, your attorney will work out the terms of the plea bargain with the prosecution. You will then have a hearing where you create a “verbal agreement” between you and the prosecution and waive your right to a jury trial.
It is important to understand that the prosecution does not have complete control of the outcome of sentencing. In negotiating a plea bargain, the prosecution is negotiating for the sentencing they will suggest to the judge.
After accepting the plea bargain, the judge will review the terms of the deal. In many cases, the judge will accept the sentencing suggestions laid out in the agreement. However, the final sentencing decision lies with the judge, who has the authority to amend the terms of the plea bargain.
Do Prosecutors Always Have To Offer A Plea Deal?
No. Prosecutors are not obligated to offer a plea deal. For certain offenses -- such as serious felonies -- prosecutors may be unwilling to offer a plea deal at all.
A plea deal relies on substantial negotiation between the defendant’s representation and the prosecution. To maximize the chances of getting a favorable plea bargain, seek the best legal representation available.
Can You Have Your Record Expunged/Sealed After Accepting a Plea Bargain?
While it is sometimes possible to have your record sealed after accepting a plea bargain, it will depend on the exact details of your plea bargain. The only way to know if you will qualify is to get in touch with an attorney .
Is It Ever In My Best Interest Not To Take A Plea Bargain?
There are certain situations where it may be in the defendants best interest to deny a plea bargain. For example, if the defense has an extremely strong case likely to win at trial, it may be best to deny a plea bargain and let the case play out in a jury trial.
However, this is a decision best made by a professional defense lawyer with the qualifications and experience necessary to weigh all the factors involved and make the best decision.
What Happens After Accepting A Plea Bargain FAQs
1. Can you accept a plea bargain after turning it down?
A plea bargain can be accepted as long as the prosecution is willing to make the offer. If the prosecution is still willing to accept the plea, it can be accepted even after being turned down initially.
2. Can a judge change a plea bargain at sentencing?
Yes. The judge has the final decision on sentencing. While the judge is likely to adhere closely to the terms of the agreement, they are free to amend it and sentence as they see fit.
3. How long do you have to take a plea deal?
It is at the discretion of the prosecution to extend a plea bargain and set any terms. There is no fixed time limit.