What You Should Know About Plea Bargains
Jan. 19, 2024
Facing the possibility of criminal charges can be an overwhelming experience. You may feel uncertain about the future, anxious about the potential outcomes, and confused by the legal process. I understand the fear and the feeling of being caught in a system that seems too complex to navigate on your own.
That's where I come in. My firm, Walker Law LLC, is located in Chesterfield, Missouri, and serves clients throughout Cottleville, St. Louis County, and Charles County. I use my experience and my understanding of the system to guide my clients through this challenging time. I'm here to help you make sense of it all, starting with one of the most common aspects of criminal cases: plea bargains.
What Is a Plea Bargain?
A plea bargain is a negotiated agreement between a prosecutor and a defendant. In exchange for pleading guilty or "no contest" to charges, the prosecutor agrees to drop some charges, reduce others, or recommend a specific sentence. This process is an integral part of our criminal justice system, with over 90% of convictions coming from negotiated pleas. It offers a way to resolve cases more quickly and predictably than going to trial.
Why Consider a Plea Bargain?
There are several reasons why a plea bargain might be beneficial for you. Firstly, it can lead to a lesser sentence than if you were found guilty at trial. Secondly, trials can be lengthy and expensive, so a plea bargain could save you both time and money. Lastly, accepting a plea bargain provides certainty; you know what you're getting, rather than leaving the outcome to a judge or jury.
Types of Plea Bargains
Plea bargaining can be a complex process, and it's essential to understand the different types that exist. Generally, plea bargains are divided into two main categories: sentence bargaining and charge bargaining. However, these can be broken down further into additional categories:
Sentence Bargaining: This is a method of plea bargaining in which I, as your attorney, negotiate with the prosecutor to recommend a lighter sentence for specific charges if you plead guilty or no contest. Sentence bargaining can provide some certainty about the potential outcome of your case, offering peace of mind and the opportunity to prepare for what lies ahead.
Charge Bargaining: In charge bargaining, the prosecutor agrees to drop some charges or reduce a charge to a less serious offense in exchange for a plea by you, the defendant. This could significantly impact the severity of the consequences you face, potentially reducing penalties and affecting how the conviction appears on your record.
Fact Bargaining: Although less common, fact bargaining involves admitting to certain facts in return for other facts not being introduced into evidence. This can be useful in cases where certain facts could have a significant impact on sentencing or the perception of your case.
Count Bargaining: Count bargaining refers to situations where a defendant is facing multiple counts, or separate charges, for the same crime. In such cases, the prosecutor might agree to drop some counts in return for a guilty plea on others.
Understanding these options and choosing the right one for your situation can be challenging. As an experienced criminal defense attorney in Chesterfield, Missouri, I'm here to guide you through this process.
When Are Plea Bargains Negotiated?
Plea bargains can be negotiated at almost any stage of the criminal justice process. This could be shortly after an arrest, before charges are formally filed, during a trial, or even after a conviction while a case is on appeal.
Pleading "No Contest"
Sometimes, as part of a plea bargain, you might enter a "no contest" plea. This means that you're not admitting guilt, but you're not contesting the charges either. It results in a conviction, just like a guilty plea, but it can't usually be used as evidence against you if the victim later sues you in civil court.
The Consequences of Your Criminal Record
It's crucial to understand that a plea bargain is not a get-out-of-jail-free card. It results in a criminal conviction, which will appear on your record. This can have significant and far-reaching effects on your life. While it may seem like an easy way out compared to going to trial, accepting a plea deal should never be taken lightly.
Here are some potential consequences you could face:
Employment Opportunities: Many employers conduct background checks, and a criminal conviction can make it more difficult to secure a job. Certain fields, such as education, healthcare, and law enforcement, are particularly stringent about criminal records.
Housing Applications: Landlords often run background checks as well. A criminal conviction could limit your housing options, making it harder to find a place to live.
Loss of Rights: Depending on the nature of the conviction, you might lose certain rights or privileges, such as the right to vote or own a firearm. In some cases, these rights may be restored after a period of time or through a legal process, but this is not guaranteed.
Social Consequences: A criminal conviction can also carry a social stigma, impacting personal relationships and community standing.
Sentencing for Future Convictions: If you're convicted of another crime in the future, the court may consider your previous conviction when determining your sentence, potentially leading to harsher penalties.
Strategic Legal Representation
Facing criminal charges is daunting, but you don't have to face it alone. At Walker Law LLC, I bring my experience, knowledge, and commitment to every case. If you're considering a plea bargain, let me guide you through the complexities of the criminal justice system. Located in Chesterfield, Missouri, my firm serves clients throughout Cottleville, St. Louis County, and Charles County. Contact me today, and let's start working towards the best possible outcome for your case.