What you should know about plea negotiations

Plea bargaining offers people charged with a crime the opportunity to avoid harsh penalties such as lengthy prison terms, so it is no surprise that many Texas residents choose not to fight criminal charges and go for a plea deal instead. It is important, however, to be aware of what plea bargaining entails. You should also know that you ultimately are in charge of whether to accept a plea deal or not.

First, there are different areas of plea negotiations. The two that may be the most familiar to the public involve negotiating down either the charges or the severity of a sentence. According to Findlaw, defense attorneys may arrange for a person to plead guilty to a lesser charge in exchange for more serious charges to be dismissed. In some cases, the prosecution may drop some of the counts. A defense team may also negotiate down the sentence directly in exchange for a guilty plea.

However, a legal defense team could also negotiate the scope of the evidence presented in court. This is not a commonly known tactic, but it is sometimes employed. Defense attorneys may agree that certain facts about the case will be conceded, which will eliminate the prosecution’s burden to prove the facts are true. In exchange, other facts will not be introduced in court as evidence. Narrowing the scope of facts presented in court can result in a reduced sentence, since establishing those facts in court may require a judge to hand down a harsher penalty.

You should also know that you do not have to accept the initial offer of the prosecution. Keep in mind that sometimes a plea deal can still result in an unfavorable outcome. For instance, conceding that certain facts of a case are true might land a person in trouble if those facts take on greater importance later on.

Be aware that a judge is often not involved in the actual negotiating process. Usually, defense attorneys will take the matter up in the office of the prosecutor or over the phone. The involvement of a judge will typically come later, when the plea deal is presented by the prosecutor. However, the judge could reject the deal. There is no guarantee that a plea deal will be accepted even after it has been made.

Additionally, whatever is being negotiated should be communicated to a client before any deals are made. The American Bar Association makes it clear that the choice to accept any deal rests with the client, so the client must have all the pertinent information about what is being offered. A defense team should not accept an offer for a client even if they believe the deal is sound.