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How much do you know about plea bargains?

Unless you are a judge, an attorney or a prosecutor, your education about plea bargains may be limited. For instance, what exactly is a plea bargain and how does it work? If you are facing criminal charges -- for instance, charges of assault and battery, domestic abuse or other violent crimes -- you may be offered a plea bargain by the prosecuting attorney. Should you take it?

There are actually three different types of plea bargaining: charge bargaining, sentence bargaining and fact bargaining. Charge bargaining is the most common, which is where a prosecuting attorney agrees to drop a more severe charge if the defendant will agree to plead guilty to a lesser charge.

Sentence bargaining is the next most common, but is more controlled than charge bargaining and usually must be reviewed and approved by a judge before a prosecuting attorney can offer the deal. This is where the prosecutor will offer a lesser sentence for a guilty plea. Some jurisdictions do not allow this type of plea bargaining, choosing to stand on mandatory sentencing for specific types of crimes.

The third type, fact bargaining, is even less common. In these cases, the defendant agrees to admit to certain facts in a case if the prosecutor agrees to keep other facts from being revealed. Some courts do not allow this type of bargaining.

Why are plea bargains made? There is controversy as to whether plea bargains are actually considered "justice" in what is meant to be a fair and equitable system of law, but there is no denying that plea bargaining helps the legal system move along. If all court cases had to wait to be heard by a judge, our courts would be so overcrowded, the legal system would be one huge bottleneck. It is estimated that 90 percent of court cases end with some type of plea bargaining.

Both the prosecutor and defendant can benefit from plea bargaining. The prosecutor's time is freed up so he/she can focus on tougher cases. The defendant saves both time and money, and is able to obtain closure to his or her case. Defense attorneys can deal directly with the prosecuting attorneys and negotiate with them on the defendant's behalf.

Source: FindLaw, "Plea Bargains: In Depth," accessed Nov. 06, 2015

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