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27 Nov 23

The Option of Plea Bargains in New Jersey Criminal Cases

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Last Updated on: 6th December 2023, 10:58 pm

The Option of Plea Bargains in New Jersey Criminal Cases

Facing criminal charges can be an incredibly stressful and scary situation. As a defendant, you may feel overwhelmed navigating the complex legal system and making big decisions that could seriously impact your future. One of those big decisions is whether or not to accept a plea bargain.

Plea bargains allow defendants to plead guilty to some charges in exchange for concessions from prosecutors, such as dismissing other charges or arguing for a lesser sentence. While plea bargains can be controversial, they are extremely common in New Jersey and other states. In fact, over 90% of criminal cases end with a plea bargain rather than going to trial.

The Plea Bargain Process

Plea bargaining usually starts with the prosecutor reaching out to the defense attorney with an offer. This initial offer may propose that the defendant pleads guilty to some charges in exchange for the prosecution dropping or reducing other charges.

For example, let’s say someone was charged with armed robbery and assault with a deadly weapon. The prosecution might offer to drop the more serious armed robbery charge if the defendant pleads guilty to the assault charge.

Defense attorneys then discuss the plea bargain offer with their client. Together, they weigh the pros and cons of taking the deal or going to trial. The attorney advises the client, but ultimately it is the defendant’s choice whether or not to accept.

If the initial offer is rejected, there may be back and forth negotiation between the lawyers to reach an agreement both sides find acceptable. Common concessions given by prosecutors include:

  • Dropping some charges entirely
  • Reducing felony charges to misdemeanors
  • Agreeing not to bring additional charges
  • Recommending a lesser sentence

Once approved, a plea bargain becomes legally binding. The defendant must plead guilty in court, and the judge generally sentences according to the terms in the plea agreement.

Weighing the Pros and Cons of Plea Deals

Deciding whether or not to accept a plea bargain is a big decision with major implications. There are reasonable arguments on both sides to consider.

Potential Benefits of Accepting a Plea Deal:

  • Avoid the risk and uncertainty of trial
  • Lock in a lesser charge and/or sentence
  • Save significant time, money, stress compared to trial
  • Possibly serve less or no jail time
  • Get charges dismissed that could hurt future job prospects
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Potential Downsides of Accepting a Plea Deal:

  • Plead guilty rather than fighting the charges
  • Have a permanent criminal record
  • Lose certain rights and privileges
  • Still serve jail time
  • Prosecutors don’t have to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt

Ultimately, the decision comes down to the defendant’s specific situation, values, priorities and willingness to take risks. An experienced New Jersey criminal defense lawyer can provide invaluable guidance based on the evidence, potential outcomes, and their past experience with local courts and prosecutors.

When Plea Bargains Make the Most Sense

While every case is different, there are certain situations where accepting a plea deal often makes good strategic sense:

Overwhelming evidence against you: If the prosecution has very strong evidence like video footage or documentation proving guilt, it may be wise to negotiate a plea deal rather than almost certainly losing at trial.

Serious charges with long sentences: The incentive to bargain increases for very serious felonies carrying lengthy prison sentences of 10+ years if convicted at trial.

First time offenses: Defendants without a criminal record may get better plea deals and are more likely to avoid jail time.

Weak defense case: If there are no solid legal defenses or the defendant made incriminating statements, pleading out may be the best option.

Of course, experienced local defense attorneys have deep understanding of prosecutors’ tendencies, the law, and past case outcomes to inform their clients. Their legal expertise is invaluable when weighing plea bargain offers.

The Emotional Side of Plea Bargain Decisions

Beyond the legal implications, plea bargain decisions also involve emotional considerations:

  • Coming to terms with guilt
  • Admitting wrongdoing publicly in court
  • Impacts on family, reputation, finances
  • Uncertainty over the future

This can be extremely difficult even when pleading out seems to make logical sense. Having an attorney who listens and provides empathy as well as legal counsel can help defendants work through the psychological side.

While plea bargains remain controversial and aren’t always the best choice, they resolve the vast majority of criminal cases in New Jersey. Carefully weighing the risks and benefits with trusted legal advice is critical. Every situation and priority is unique. With an open and thoughtful process, defendants can make fully informed decisions.