Anyone who enjoys criminal drama television shows or films knows that some of the most dramatic scenes take place during the criminal trials of those arrested and accused of crimes. Many people would be surprised to learn that the majority of cases never even make it to trial because the prosecutor and defense usually work out some sort of plea bargain that the judge signs off on.

Statistics show that less than 10 percent of defendants actually go on trial. In federal cases, only 3 percent of defendants are tried. The key to a defendant receiving a fair plea bargain and sentence agreement is to have a skilled criminal defense attorney handling those negotiations.

The following is a basic overview of how plea bargains work:

What is a plea bargain?

Plea bargains are negotiations that take place between the defendant (usually via his or her defense attorney) and the prosecutor. The goal of a plea bargain is to reach a resolution to the case without having to go trial. Typically, the prosecutor will offer a lesser charge than what the defendant is originally charged with, along with a lighter sentence than what the defendant is facing.

In turn, the defendant agrees to plead guilty to that lesser charge. In cases where there are other parties involved, part of the plea bargain may be that the defendant agrees to testify or offer evidence against the other parties. The law requires that any plea bargain a defendant makes is a voluntary one and that they are fully informed and aware of what their guilty plea means.

Why do prosecutors use plea bargains and why do defendants agree to them?

There are many reasons why a prosecutor may approach a defense attorney to discuss a plea bargain or a defense attorney may approach the prosecutor. The burden of proof in a criminal trial is on the prosecutor and if they feel there may some issues with some of the evidence or witnesses they have, they may offer a plea bargain. Another reason a prosecutor may offer a plea bargain is because the defendant can be a useful witness against another defendant who has committed more serious crimes.

A defendant may want to initiate a plea bargain because the evidence against them is very strong and it may be difficult to defend against. Instead of facing the maximum jail sentence, a plea bargain can bring a lighter penalty and possible alternative sentencing options, such as alcohol or drug treatment programs, probation, or suspended sentence.

In addition, a long, drawn-out criminal trial can be expensive, especially if it is necessary to call expert witnesses or conduct private investigations. A plea agreement can help avoid those high legal bills, especially if the evidence is overwhelmingly against the defendant anyway.

The best way to determine whether or not a plea bargain is the right choice for your situation is to discuss your case with an experienced criminal defense attorney DC trusts who can evaluate your case and the evidence against you and determine all of your legal options.

Thank you to our friends and contributos at The Law Firm of Frederick J. Brynn for their insight into criminal defense.