If you’re facing criminal charges for the first time, your mind may go to all the courtroom scenes you’ve seen on TV and in the movies, but will your case actually go to trial? In the movies, criminals may be depicted on the stand but in reality, that rarely occurs.
In real life, the vast majority of criminal cases are resolved out of court. What happens is both sides go back and forth until they reach an agreement. This process occurs between the prosecution and the defense is known as “plea bargaining” or “negotiating a plea.” In courts across the country, including Texas, the majority of criminal cases are resolved this way.
Benefits of Plea Bargaining
Plea bargaining is practical and popular for many reasons, such as minimizing risk for both sides. Not only that, but plea bargaining is beneficial for the prosecution and the defense. Here are some of the practical reasons why plea bargaining is so prevalent:
- Defendants can save a lot of legal fees.
- Defendants can avoid the lengthy process of a trial.
- Defendants can often avoid the risk of a stiffer punishment.
- Defendants can avoid the publicity (and sometimes humiliation) of a trial.
- The prosecution saves time.
- The prosecution avoids the expense of a lengthy trial.
- The court’s calendar is freed up.
- Both sides avoid the uncertainty involved in a trial.
The prosecution or the defense can begin the negotiation process by proposing a plea bargain; however, both sides have to agree for an agreement to be reached. Usually, the defendant pleads guilty to a lesser charge, or they plead guilty to only one charge when they’re being charged with several crimes. A plea bargain may also involve the defendant pleading guilty as charged, but the prosecutor recommends a lighter sentence.
“Are judges bound to accept prosecutors’ recommendations?” No, they are not. Often, plea bargains have to be approved by the court, and judges are not required to accept the prosecutor’s recommendations. In other cases, a plea bargain is not subject to the judge’s approval; a prosecutor may be able to drop charges when the defendant pleads “guilty” to a lesser offense. It depends on the circumstances and facts of the case.