What Exactly Is A Plea Bargain?
A plea bargain is a change of plea in exchange for some kind of benefit—dismissal or reduction some charges, a reduction of the sentence the government is asking for, etc.
Why Are Plea Bargains Used In So Many Cases?
Sometimes because there are benefits to plea bargaining; sometimes because lawyers are lazy. I get a lot of business from immigrants who were screwed over by their previous criminal attorney because the attorney did not analyze how someone’s situation is different if they are not a US citizen, and therefore did not advise them correctly. Common benefits of plea bargains can include getting a disposition that won’t show up when prospective employers do a criminal records check, getting a reduction of the charges (especially when one or more charge carries a mandatory minimum sentence and the government agrees to dismiss those charges in exchange for pleading to the rest), or negotiating a disposition with no or reduced risk of immigration consequences. But immigration law is weird and some things that can be helpful for other purposes can be useless or even harmful in an immigration context.
Why Are Sentences Usually Reduced For A Guilty Plea? Are Plea Bargains Available In All Cases?
Sentences are usually reduced when taking a plea because you’d have to be crazy to take it otherwise. If the consequence of losing at trial is exactly the same as the consequence of a plea, why not roll the dice? Better a 1% chance of winning than a 0% chance. Some kind of plea bargain is available in almost all cases; the real question is whether it is a bargain you want to take.
Is There A Time Limit On Making A Plea Bargain?
Ultimately the time limit is trial. If you go to trial, the jury will do what they do and it’s too late. But pleas happen any time before the start of trial, and occasionally even in the middle of trial.
Does The Judge Have To Accept A Plea Bargain?
No, but they almost always accept the plea, and usually accept an agreed upon sentence, as long as It meets the minimum legal requirements a plea is supposed to meet, such as the defendant having mental competence to make a plea bargain and understanding what they are pleading to. Some courts have some limits on what judges can do though. In Massachusetts district courts and Boston Municipal Court, you decide what the maximum sentence you will agree to is. Then the judge can either accept your plea, or reject it and tell you what sentence they would impose and give you an opportunity to decide whether to take that sentence or go to trial. In superior court, the judge can go higher than the sentence you propose without giving you an opportunity to reconsider, but must give you the opportunity to reconsider if they are going to give you a worse sentence than the prosecution proposes. In federal court they do not have these restrictions, but you can plead guilty and still reserve your right to appeal the sentence if you believe it is unfair.
Can There Be A Plea Bargain Without The Prosecutor’s Approval?
It depends on what you are asking for. The judge cannot dismiss or reduce charges as part of a plea unless the prosecutor agrees, but they can give you a lower sentence than the prosecutor asks for. However, I would never count on the judge doing that.
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