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The Most Common Types of Plea Bargains

Published in Criminal Law on June 26, 2017.

Is a Plea Bargain right in your case? Criminal Defense Attorney Explains Risks and Benefits for the Accused in Indianapolis

Plea Bargains and a criminal court judgeOver the past several decades plea bargaining is a common practice in criminal law.

The increase in minimum sentences, the discretion allowed to trial court judges, the fact that the court system can not handle every criminal case going to trial, and with juries and court cases so unpredictable, sometimes a plea bargain makes sense.

Plea bargains are agreements between the defense and prosecution. In return for entering a plea with the court, the defendant receives a penalty recommended by the prosecution to the presiding judge. Typically, a defendant receives reduced sentences or reduced charges in exchange for a guilty plea.  In fact, 97 percent of federal criminal cases were resolved by plea deals in 2011.

Plea bargains offer the prosecution the opportunity to obtain a guilty plea, but also allow the defense a favorable sentence and a sense of relief in knowing what the outcome will be.

What Types of Plea Bargains Could You Receive?

Plea bargains, also called deals or agreements, take multiple forms. Mainly, the agreement you receive depends on the evidence the prosecution has, your criminal history, potential sentences if convicted at trial and the value of a plea to you and the prosecution.

Can Felony or Misdemeanor Charges Use Plea Deals?

The law allows for misdemeanor and felony offenses to use plea deals. However, there are restrictions on sentences depending on the jurisdiction someone is charged in and the crime charged.  In some instances there are mandatory minimum sentences. Therefore, your attorney can help you decide if a plea deal applies to your case and the options you have.

Pleading to a Lesser Charge

Pleading to a lesser charge affects the criminal charges a defendant faces.

In this instance, the prosecutor offers the defendant a lesser charge in exchange for a “guilty” plea. The lesser charge can carry a shorter sentence or less harsh punishment than the original charges the defendant faced.  The lesser charge may also have other ancillary benefits like not losing rights to firearms or registration requirements.

An Example of pleading to a lesser charge: The defendant is charged with felony burglary. However, in exchange for a “guilty” plea, the defendant receives a criminal trespass charge, which is a misdemeanor and carries a shorter maximum jail sentence too.

Other times, an agreement removes added charges to the original offense. In drunken driving cases, an offender typically faces traffic citations and other charges that arise out of the DUI. The prosecutor may drop the associated charges and in exchange for a “guilty” plea to the DUI.

Why Plead to a Lesser Charge?

The purpose of pleading to a lesser charge is to mitigate the immediate sentence and the ongoing harm caused by being convicted of a more serious charge.  Sometimes deals like this allow discretion to the judge to sentence within the range of the new charge, other times the sentence is also negotiated.  When a sentence is agreed to the plea is considered to be a set term plea.

The Set Term Plea

Set Term Pleas involve an agreement of the sentencing phase.

Instead of a defendant being at the mercy of the court, the prosecution makes a sentencing recommendation in exchange for a guilty plea.

Most criminal offenses carry a broad range of sentences, and the judge uses his or her discretion when deciding which sentence range to impose. Due to the randomness and multiple ranges of outcomes, defendants might prefer to plead guilty then take their chances of a guilty verdict at trial and a judge’s sentencing.

The sentencing bargain must complete before a guilty verdict is entered. Once the judgment is rendered, the defendant is at the mercy of the court for his or her sentence.

The Judge Must Approve Sentencing Bargains

One area to note with a sentencing agreement is that the sentence recommendation from the prosecutor does not guarantee that the defendant receives that sentence. The presiding judge must approve the agreement. If the judge feels the sentence is too lenient or occasionally to harsh, he or she has the authority to reject that plea agreement.

However, if the judge does not approve the sentencing bargain, typically the defendant can withdraw their plea and go to trial.

Nolo Contendre or No Contest

Nolo Contendre or No Contest pleas are not legal Indiana.  Pleas of this type allow a defendant to proceed to sentencing without having to admit that they in fact committed a crime. In Indiana if you enter into a guilty plea agreement you must admit to enough facts to meet a factual basis.

Diversion or Agreement to Withhold Prosecution

Another type of agreement is a diversion.  The judge is not a party to this agreement.  A diversion is a contract between the defendant and the prosecutor’s office that states in the event a defendant completes certain terms the state will dismiss the charges against the defendant.  If the defendant fails there are typically statements that are agreed will be admissible against them at trial.  Diversions are completely up to the discretion of the prosecutor’s office.  They are dictated by statute under Ind. Code § 33-39-1-8.

Arrested for a Crime? Speak with a Criminal Defense Attorney

Never accept a plea arrangement without talking to a criminal defense attorney first.

Sometimes prosecutors offer deals to lessen the burden on their schedule, but also without giving defendants the opportunity to discuss the case with a lawyer.

You have the right to an attorney, no matter how “pressing” the prosecution tries to be with their plea bargain or how enticing a plea bargain offer might be. Consulting with an attorney is your best opportunity for a fair bargain.

Therefore, immediately after your arrest, contact Eskew Law. Our criminal defense team can help you examine the facts of your case and negotiate a plea deal if it is in your best interest.

Call us now for a no-obligation case evaluation at 317-974-0177 or request information about our law firm online.