Plea Bargains in Criminal Cases
What Is a Plea Bargain?
A plea bargain (also referred to as plea deals or negotiated pleas) is an option that defendants can take to avoid harsh penalties for a crime. Specifically, a plea deal is an agreement between the prosecution and a defendant in which the defendant pleads guilty or no contest in exchange for:
- the prosecution dropping one or more charges,
- the reduction of their charges to a less serious offense, or
- a recommendation to the judge concerning a specific sentence that is acceptable to the defendant.
Are You Required to Accept a Plea Bargain in NJ?
The prosecution and the defendant’s attorney cannot force the defendant to accept a plea agreement. Whether or not you accept a bargain is entirely up to you. However, it is important to note that even if you accept a plea deal, it may not be accepted by the judge.
When the prosecution and defense enter into negotiations and agree upon the terms of the agreement, the judge is not involved. Once the resolution of the case and the agreement have been reached, a judge must approve the agreement in order for it to be binding.
To evaluate the proposed negotiated plea, a judge must be informed of all the terms of the deal so that they can decide whether the proposed punishment is appropriate and fair in accordance with:
- the charges,
- the facts of the case,
- the interests of the victims,
- the interest of the public,
- the defendant’s criminal history, and
- the defendant’s character.
In their decision, the judge can accept or reject all of the terms, accept the agreement on certain terms but reject the negotiated sentence, or suggest that the defendant please without a negotiated sentence agreement. If the judge accepts the plea deal, the plea bargain cannot be overturned, and the court maintains jurisdiction in the case if the defendant is required to complete certain conditions (as a part of the deal).
Reasons People Might Accept a Plea Bargain in a Criminal Case
A defendant may consider accepting a plea bargain offered by the prosecution even if they are innocent. The primary benefit of accepting a plea deal is that a defendant is likely to receive a less severe sentence and charge, and both the defendant (and their attorney) and the prosecution have some control over how the case will resolve. Other incentives for a defendant to accept a plea bargain include:
- Saving money. Defendants can save money on attorneys; fees and more by accepting a plea deal.
- Avoiding (potentially) jail time. If a defendant was held in custody without bail or because they could not afford bail, they may get out of jail with time served or be eligible for probation. Even if they have to serve more time, a defendant can still benefit as they avoided a harsher prison sentence.
- Resolving the case quickly. By avoiding trial with a plea deal, the criminal case can be resolved much more quickly and efficiently.
- Reducing the number of offenses or severity of the offenses on their record. Sometimes socially offensive charges are reduced to other charges on a defendant’s record as part of their plea. Getting a charge reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor, no matter the crime, can also help protect a defendant’s rights and freedoms.
- Avoiding publicity. Whether a defendant is famous or not, they may want to avoid having their case publicized even if the news is short-lived.
Should I Accept a Plea Bargain in My Case?
Whether or not you accept a plea deal will depend on the specifics of your case and the agreement itself. Before accepting a plea bargain, you should consult with an experienced, reliable attorney. They can assist with your plea bargain throughout the entire process as they can help you:
- Enter into negotiations.
- Gather evidence to build a solid case.
- Understand the seriousness of the crime and potential outcomes.
- Advise you on whether you should accept an offered plea deal.
At Brickfield & Donahue, we always strive to help our clients obtain the best possible case result, and we are known for being honest with our clients about their legal rights and options as well as potential case outcomes. While we strive to get our clients’ cases dismissed or acquitted, we are equipped to help clients enter a plea or minimize the potential consequences of a conviction if an acquittal is not possible.
To discuss your case with a member of our team, call (201) 574-7919 or reach out online today.