A plea bargain is a negotiation between the defendant and the prosecution that ends in the defendant pleading guilty to one or more criminal charges in exchange for a reduction in punishments.
Sometimes, defendants will plead guilty to one of their charges in exchange for having the rest of the charges dropped. In other cases, defendants will plead guilty to a less severe version of their current criminal charge in order to benefit from the lower punishments associated with that charge.
Why would someone want to enter into a plea bargain?
As you can imagine, there are some real benefits for defendants who enter into a plea bargain. However, the defendant is also giving up the chance for a verdict of not guilty. As such, the decision to seek a plea bargain is largely one of balancing risks -- both for the prosecution and the defense.
The fact is, no one can predict exactly how a jury or judge will decide a particular case; and, no one can predict how severely the judge will choose to punish the defendant in the event of a conviction. The prosecution is usually seeking a conviction and a severe punishment and the defendant is seeking a verdict of not guilty or to have the charges dropped.
Through a plea bargain, the parties can meet somewhere in the middle -- the defendant will save money by skipping the litigation and lawyers' fees. The prosecution will bypass the threat of having the defendant get off scot-free.
The only time a defendant should plead guilty
The decision to engage in plea negotiations is a serious one. The only time that a defendant should ever agree to a plea deal is if the chances of conviction are relatively high. Otherwise, it would be more advantageous for the defendant to plead not guilty and try to achieve a verdict of not guilty.
If you think that you could benefit from a plea deal, be sure to fully understand the facts of your case, the facts required to convict you, the likelihood of conviction and the potential criminal punishments you could face.