Understanding Plea Bargains In Texas Criminal Cases
If you have been charged with a crime, the discussion of a plea bargain will almost always be a part of the process – usually well before your case even goes to trial. A common myth about plea bargains is that they mean one side is “giving up” in the case. That either the prosecution doesn’t have enough evidence or the defendant doesn’t want to go to trial. In many situations, however, plea bargains are beneficial both for the prosecution and for the defendant – a “win-win” scenario of sorts.
What is a plea bargain in Texas?
A plea bargain, sometimes referred to as a “charge bargain”, involves an agreement between the prosecution and the defendant in which the prosecution makes an offer in exchange for certain benefits from the defendant. When the defendant accepts a plea bargain, they generally will enter a plea of “guilty” or “no contest”. (A “no contest”, or nolo contendere plea, means the defendant acknowledges guilt but the plea cannot be used against them for other purposes, such as the basis for a civil lawsuit.)
In exchange for this plea, the prosecution will often:
- Reduce charges to a lesser offense;
- Drop one or more charges while continuing with another;
- Agree to recommend a minimal and lenient sentence;
- Drop criminal charges.
Benefits of Plea Bargains for Prosecutors
For defendants, it may seem odd that the prosecution would be willing to drop or reduce charges, or agree to a lenient sentence, instead of taking their case all the way to trial. For prosecutors, they seek not only to “win” their cases, but they also owe a responsibility to the State of Texas and crime victims in a case to hold offenders responsible for their actions. A plea bargain in which a defendant admits some level of guilt and receives a punishment usually achieves these ends.
Prosecutors – just like defendants – face the risk that if they take a case to trial and lose, they are left empty handed and without further options. A plea bargain can also help the prosecution resolve a case without expending the time and resources involved with conducting a trial. Trials, for the county and state, are expensive, and also involve obtaining trial testimony from police officers and expert witnesses to present their case. If they can conclude the case with a plea bargain, consented to by the crime victim, prosecutors will usually be happy with the result.
Benefits of Plea Bargains for Defendants
For defendants, entering into a plea bargain can be intimidating because it often will involve a guilty plea and possible jail time and fines. However, there are 3 main benefits to a plea bargain for defendants:
- Prosecutors will likely reduce or drop charges. If the state can get a guilty plea on one or more charges, they are likely to drop others – particularly ones that may involve tougher penalties and longer sentences. Pleading guilty to a misdemeanor instead of a felony, for example, can help a defendant tremendously in the future because they won’t have to worry about a felony on their record.
- Clarity about sentencing and potential leniency from the prosecution and judge. A skilled defense attorney can often negotiate with prosecutors on an agreement where the defendant pleads to a charge in exchange for a lenient sentence on the minimal side of the sentencing guidelines. At trial, a defendant runs the risk that they’ll be convicted and the prosecution will push for the toughest possible sentence.
- Quicker resolution of the case. Criminal cases can drag out for months, or even more than a year. That is a lot of time to spend with the uncertainty and dread over what could happen. Pleading at the pretrial stages can put an end to the case and allow a defendant to move on with their life.
Consult an Experienced Pearland, Texas Criminal Defense Attorney to Discuss Plea Bargain Options in Your Case
Plea bargains can seem confusing, but they have their benefits and can help a defendant close their case and move on. But it is critical to know what, exactly, you are pleading to and what the consequences are. The experienced Pearland criminal lawyers at Keith B. French Law can help you understand all rights and options available to you in your case.