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Plea bargains - the pros and cons

Plea bargains scare people.

What is a plea bargain? Clients often don't know what a plea bargain is, and many lawyers don't explain them well.

A plea bargain is a negotiated plea. There is no constitutional right to a plea bargain, but most courts accept the process as a way of getting cases settled that don't need to go to trial.

The legal system in the United States would collapse without plea bargains.

The prosecutors act like they're ox is being gored at the thought of plea bargains, but the truth is they need them and want them as much as most defendants.

Why? It takes away the unknown.

Plea bargains allow both the prosecution and the accused to know what the end result is.

Most plea bargains are a plea of guilty in exchange for some big gimme. For example, a person is charged with a violent felony which requires a mandatory prison term. The case has some weakness for the prosecution (usually the result of faulty police work) and the prosecution can't drop the charge but doesn't want to risk going to trial and losing to a not guilty verdict. The accused can offer to plead to a lesser offense without a mandatory prison sentence and get probation.

Keep in mind there about 350,000 ways to plea bargain in any criminal code. I kid you not. Cases can include plea bargains with complete dismissal of charges to pleading to prison terms to avoid the death penalty.

Each case is different.

A smart lawyer knows how to play the chess board, advancing plea negotiations while preparing for trial. A bad lawyer guns for the plea bargain without any preparation. This is important because a lazy lawyer will get a much worse plea offer than an aggressive lawyer.

No prosecutor dismisses a good case, nor do they dismiss a good case against an accused out of the goodness of their heart. They dismiss dog cases and plea bargain weak cases.

The secret is to know when to plea bargain and when to gun for a trial.

Each case is different. Each cast of characters is different. The secret is to know the chess board and what pieces to move. That takes years of experience as a criminal defense lawyer.

(Required by Alabama law: No representation is made that the quality of legal services is greater than other lawyers.)

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