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Why are plea bargains used?

Plea bargaining may be criticized by many in Kentucky and across the U.S., but in truth, it is how the great majority of criminal trials are settled. Not only do they help ease crowded court dockets, they give prosecutors an opportunity to guarantee a conviction. For defendants, a plea bargain is a chance to receive a lighter sentence, as well as a somewhat better record.

The American Bar Association adds that plea bargains also benefit courts and prosecutors the time and cost of long trials and multiple charges, while defendants save both the cost of a trial defense, as well as publicity. Either side, defense or prosecution, can open negotiations in a plea bargain, which typically requires a guilty plea from the defendant for a lesser charge or a plea on one charge in exchange for dismissal of other charges.

It is up to the judge whether to accept the plea bargain, as he or she is not bound to follow the prosecutor's suggestions, however. Although, it is still the prosecutor's decision on what charges to file against the accused.

While once a mostly private procedure, a greater recognition of victims' rights has led to the widespread passage of legislation that gives victims the ability to participate in the plea-bargaining process. The specifics of an agreement won't be known openly, however until prosecutors announce them in court.

Along with plea bargains, courts generally encourage the use of diversion programs that allow lesser crimes to be handled without going through the full trial process. In these cases, the defendant is typically offered probation in exchange for completing a rehabilitation program and/or making restitution for his or her actions. Restitution may include monetary compensation for damage and community service. Once this arrangement is successfully completed, the defendant typically may request that the charges be expunged, or removed, from his or her record.

The information in this article is of a general nature and is not intended as legal advice.

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