It is interesting to note that most federal cases never proceed to trial in a courtroom. That’s because roughly 90 percent of federal criminal cases are resolved with a plea bargain.
Federal prosecutors like to find resolution via plea bargains when they can. It saves time, money, and other crucial judicial resources that would be better used in other, larger, and more complicated cases.
But a plea bargain may not result in the best outcome for defendants or for the government, which is why reaching a deal can sometimes be a complicated process.
What is a plea bargain and who can take advantage of them if they have federal charges being brought against them?
Read on to find the answer to these questions and more.
What Is a Plea Bargain?
A plea bargain, sometimes called a plea agreement, is a fairly simple thing to understand. Basically, the offender agrees to plead guilty in exchange for a reduced sentence and/or dismissal of other charges.
In most cases, defendants like plea agreements if they meet the following criteria:
- They are guilty of the crime and want to negotiate for a less harsh sentence
- They are innocent but entering into a plea agreement will take up less time and resources and is easier than going through a trial
- They can offer important information and be a cooperating witness in other cases in exchange for reduced penalties or charges in their case
In general, plea bargains reduce the risk of a longer sentence the defendant may face if they are found guilty at trial. In reality, there are some federal cases that can be very difficult to defend against in court, and if you’re facing prosecution with a substantial likelihood of conviction, then a plea may be your best course of action.
What Should You Be Aware Of?
What Should You Be Aware Of?
If you’re involved in a federal case and are considering a plea bargain, then it’s important to understand the hazards this type of deal can bring.
First and foremost, the rules of Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure ensure that you and your lawyer will not have access to much of the evidence against you. The prosecution is not bound to let you have access to its files, so you may have to make the guilty plea decision without a lot of information about the case against you.
It may also be part of the plea bargain that you waive your rights to appeal your sentence in the future, a right some defendants are reluctant to give up. Prosecutors will insist that you admit to the crime you’re charged with as well as other conduct that can be used as a sentence enhancement against you. If you agree to a sentence that is within federal sentencing guidelines for the case, you may find the sentence can still be quite harsh.
What If You’re Guilty?
If you are guilty of the crime you have been charged with, then you probably think a plea bargain is a best-case scenario. It can be for this and a variety of other reasons.
Perhaps the most pressing is that federal prosecutors like to file as many criminal charges as they can for a crime. So you may be facing five separate federal charges, but can plea bargain down to one or two. That’s a big advantage for the defendant.
In other cases, someone who is guilty may also feel that a plea agreement in exchange for a lighter penalty is the way to go. It is true that a plea agreement can significantly reduce your sentence, which is why you need a good attorney familiar with federal court proceedings to negotiate that for you.