Written by attorney Howard Woodley Bailey

Let's Make a Deal: the Art of Plea Bargaining

When you are charged with a crime, an offense, or a violation of the criminal code, the prosecution will typically make you an offer, to lower the potential sentence, the grade of the charge, or both, so long as you plead guilty. The trick to doing this right, is knowing when to accept the deal.

The Plea Offer

This guide assumes that you are not telling your lawyer that you are innocent, and that you are interested in a plea offer. The prosecution will typically offer you a deal that is categorized as the best offer you are going to be given. While there are some (few) circumstances where the plea should be accepted as soon as it is offered, there are usually circumstances that a skilled lawyer can use to delay acceptance, while working on details to support a counter-offer.

The counter-offer will usually seek to:

  • Reduce the length of the sentence recommended by the State.

  • Reduce the length of any parole disqualifier or probation period.

  • Reduce the gradation of the plea charge.

  • Or, reduce the type of charge you will plead to.

A skilled lawyer should also be informing you of the potential direct and collateral consequences; and, what the ramifications can be if the plea is not accepted and the case goes to trial. In addition, the lawyer should be advising you of future consequences if you get another conviction.

The Final Deal Speak to your lawyer about the consequences of the charge you are pleading guilty to. Assume that you were to take the deal, and sometime in the future pick up another charge. What would the consequences be if you had this conviction on your record? Ask your lawyer to assume the worst combination of new charge with the charge you are considering entering a plea to now. If this were to happen, would you be willing to live with that outcome? If the answer is no, then what adjustments can be made to the current plea offer to mitigate the possible future consequences. What if you were to violate your probation or parole? What would the possible sentence be if that occurred? Are you willing to accept that consequence? If not, what adjustments can be made to the current plea offer to alter the potential future consequences.

Examine not only the current plea offer, but also the direct and collateral consequences. Factor in future events you believe could occur. Then decide whether to deal.

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