NATIONALLY RECOGNIZED FEDERAL LAWYERS
Last Updated on: 6th December 2023, 11:06 pm
How Plea Bargains Work in Long Island Criminal Courts
Plea bargains—they’re as ubiquitous in the criminal justice system as handcuffs and judges. But even though about 90-95% of criminal cases end with some type of plea deal, there’s still a lot of confusion out there about what exactly plea bargains are and how they work in practice.
So in this article, I want to give an overview of plea bargains—what they are, why they’re so common, the different types of plea deals, and what the process looks like in Long Island courts specifically. My goal is to break down plea bargaining in simple terms so you have a good understanding of what to expect if your case ends up going this route.
Let’s dive in!
What is a Plea Bargain?
A plea bargain is an agreement between the prosecution and the defense where the defendant pleads guilty to a criminal charge in exchange for some kind of concession or benefit from the prosecutor.
This usually means pleading guilty to a less serious charge, having charges dropped, or getting a lighter sentence recommendation. The key thing is that both sides compromise to avoid going to trial.
Why Are Plea Bargains So Common?
Good question! With packed court dockets and limited resources, the reality is going to trial in every single criminal case just isn’t feasible nowadays.
Trials are time-consuming and involve lots of preparation—research, evidence gathering, pre-trial hearings, and more. Not to mention they require impaneling juries, witnesses taking time off work, etc.
The whole process ties up prosecutors, judges, and public defenders for weeks or months per case.
Plea bargains help keep the wheels of justice turning. By resolving most cases through guilty pleas, the courts can focus their efforts on the most complex and serious cases that do warrant a full trial.
Types of Plea Bargains
There’s no one-size-fits all template for plea agreements. Prosecutors and defense attorneys can get creative with the specific terms. But in general, these are some of the most common types of plea bargains:
- Charge bargaining – Pleading guilty to a less serious charge in exchange for having more serious charges dropped. For example, pleading guilty to misdemeanor assault rather than felony assault.
- Count bargaining – Pleading guilty to only some of the charges you’re facing in exchange for other charges being dismissed.
- Sentence bargaining – The prosecutor agrees to recommend a lighter sentence to the judge in exchange for a guilty plea. This can include agreeing not to seek the maximum.
- Fact bargaining – This involves negotiating over the facts of the case themselves and what conduct the defendant will actually plead guilty to.
- Hybrid deals – Many plea agreements combine different elements like charge reductions, dismissed counts, and sentence recommendations.
The Plea Bargain Process in Long Island Courts
If you find yourself facing criminal charges in Nassau or Suffolk County, here’s an overview of the typical plea bargain process works:
After charges are filed, the prosecution will usually start plea negotiations by making an opening offer. This initial offer will set the starting point to work from. The prosecutor may offer to reduce charges, dismiss counts, recommend a certain sentence, or a combination.
Your lawyer will then assess if it’s a favorable deal or if there’s room to negotiate further.
Negotiation & New Offers
Plea bargaining is just that—a negotiation. Both sides go back and forth discussing options, making counteroffers, and working to a potential compromise.
As a defendant, you need an experienced criminal defense lawyer fighting to get you the best possible deal under the circumstances. An attorney knows what arguments to make and where there may be weakness in the prosecution’s case to leverage.
Reaching a Final Plea Agreement
Eventually—often on the eve of trial—negotiations will result in a final proposed plea deal your lawyer presents you to consider accepting.
It’s critical that they walk you through the terms, the rights you’ll waive, potential consequences, and assess if it achieves your goals given the facts of the case.
The Plea Hearing
If you decide to take the plea deal, the next step is the plea hearing where you’ll stand in front of the judge, admit guilt, and officially enter your guilty plea.
You’ll be asked questions about whether you’re pleading voluntarily, if you understand your rights, if anyone threatened you, etc. So long as the judge is satisfied your plea is knowing and voluntary, they will accept it.
After pleading guilty, a future date will be set for your sentencing hearing. This is where the judge issues the actual sentence—probation, jail time, fines, etc. The plea agreement often includes a joint sentence recommendation that the judge generally sticks to, but not always.
So in a nutshell, that’s the start-to-finish process! While every case has its own unique nuances, this overview should give you a good sense of how plea bargaining typically plays out in Long Island courts.
The Pros & Cons of Accepting a Plea Deal
Deciding whether to accept a plea offer or take your case to trial is an incredibly high-stakes choice with no easy answers. There are compelling arguments on both sides.
Here are some of the key pros and cons to weigh:
Why Some Defendants Choose to Plead Guilty
- Avoid harsher penalties if convicted at trial
- Guaranteed outcome vs. uncertainty of trial
- Save time and stress of trial process
- Avoid immigration consequences of convictions
- Privacy of plea hearing vs. public trial
Why Other Defendants Reject Plea Deals
- Maintain innocence rather than plead guilty
- Opportunity to win full acquittal at trial
- Avoid felony record and collateral consequences
- Chance prosecutors won’t succeed at trial
- Leverage to get better plea offer pre-trial
As you can see, there are good reasons for either decision. Every case has unique factors in play. There could also be room for another counteroffer.
An experienced criminal lawyer can offer invaluable guidance, but you must weigh the options and ultimately decide what makes the most sense for your situation.
Other Key Things to Know About Plea Bargains
Before wrapping up, here are few other important things to understand about plea deals as you navigate the criminal justice system:
- Prosecutors aren’t obligated to offer plea bargains or negotiate if they don’t want to. But the vast majority of cases involve discussions.
- Plea deals often require waiving certain rights, like the right to appeal your conviction later on. Make sure you understand exactly what rights you’re giving up.
- Don’t rush into any plea deal. Insist on time to discuss options with your lawyer and family. Use deadlines and trial dates as leverage.
- Be extremely wary of any prosecutor demanding an “exploding offer” that’s only good for 24 hours or some other short timeframe. It may be a pressure tactic.
- Always get any plea deal terms or promises in writing! Verbal assurances mean nothing if they’re not formalized in the agreement.
I know this was a boatload of information about plea bargaining! The main takeaway is that with an experienced criminal defense lawyer advising you every step and negotiating on your behalf, plea deals can be an favorable resolution compared to the uncertainty of trial.
Just don’t rush into anything without fully understanding your options. Carefully weigh the pros and cons for your situation. And above all—know your rights!
Hopefully this article gave you a helpful overview of how plea bargains work in Long Island courts. Let me know if you have any other questions