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What is a plea bargain?

You’ve Been Charged with a Crime – Now What?

Finding yourself charged with a crime can be one of the most stressful, overwhelming experiences of your life. The consequences of a criminal conviction are far-reaching and can impact your freedom, employment prospects, professional licenses, and much more. You need to take this situation extremely seriously.As experienced criminal defense attorneys, we understand how daunting the legal process can feel. The road ahead is uncertain and the stakes are high. But you don’t have to face this alone. We’re here to guide you through every step and fight aggressively to protect your rights and future.One of the first major decisions you’ll need to make is whether to go to trial or accept a plea bargain from the prosecution. It’s a complicated choice with pros and cons to weigh carefully. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll break down everything you need to know about plea bargains so you can make the most informed decision possible.But first, let’s start with a fundamental understanding…

What Exactly Is a Plea Bargain?

A plea bargain, also known as “plea negotiation,” is essentially an agreement between the defendant (that’s you) and the prosecutor. Here’s how it works:The prosecutor offers you an incentive to plead guilty or no contest to some or all of the charges against you. In exchange for your plea, they’ll recommend a lighter sentence than if you were convicted at trial.This “incentive” can take a few different forms:

  • Charge bargaining: The prosecutor reduces or drops some of the charges, leaving you to plead guilty to lesser offenses.
  • Sentence bargaining: You plead guilty as charged, but the prosecutor recommends a more lenient sentence to the judge.
  • Fact bargaining: You agree to stipulate to certain facts of the case to simplify the issues at trial.

The key thing to understand is that by accepting a plea deal, you are admitting guilt and will have a criminal conviction on your record. However, the penalties are reduced compared to if you took your chances at trial and were found guilty by a jury.So why would anyone accept a plea deal? It all comes down to weighing the pros and cons, which we’ll explore next.

The Pros and Cons of Plea Bargains

There are legitimate arguments on both sides of the plea bargain debate. Here are some of the key pros and cons to consider:

Pros of Accepting a Plea Bargain

1. Reduced Sentencing

This is the biggest carrot offered by plea deals. By pleading guilty, you’ll likely receive a much lighter sentence than if you were convicted at trial. This could mean the difference between jail time or probation, fewer years behind bars, lower fines, etc.

2. Swifter Resolution

Trials can drag on for months or even years in some cases. A plea bargain allows you to resolve the charges against you relatively quickly and move on with your life sooner.

3. Certainty of Outcome

At trial, the outcome is uncertain – you could be found not guilty or guilty and face maximum penalties. A plea deal takes that uncertainty off the table by allowing you to know the consequences ahead of time.

Christine Twomey
Christine Twomey
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Brendan huisman
Brendan huisman
Alex Zhik contacted me almost immediately when I reached out to Spodek for a consultation and was able to effectively communicate the path forward/consequences of my legal issue. I immediately agreed to hire Alex for his services and did not regret my choice. He was able to cover my case in court (with 1 day notice) and not only was he able to push my case down, he carefully negotiated a dismissal of the charge altogether. I highly recommend Spodek, and more specifically, Alex Zhik for all of your legal issues. Thanks guys!
Guerline Menard
Guerline Menard
Thanks again Spodek law firm, particularly Esq Claire Banks who stood right there with us up to the finish line. Attached photos taken right outside of the court building and the smile on our faces represented victory, a breath of fresh air and satisfaction. We are very happy that this is over and we can move on with our lives. Thanks Spodek law 🙏🏼🙏🏼🙏🏼🙏🏼🙌🏼❤️
Keisha Parris
Keisha Parris
Believe every single review here about Alex Z!! From our initial consultation, it was evident that Alex possessed a profound understanding of criminal law and a fierce dedication to his clients rights. Throughout the entirety of my case, Alex exhibited unparalleled professionalism and unwavering commitment. What sets Alex apart is not only his legal expertise but also his genuine compassion for his clients. He took the time to thoroughly explain my case, alleviating any concerns I had along the way. His exact words were “I’m not worried about it”. His unwavering support and guidance were invaluable throughout the entire process. I am immensely grateful for Alex's exceptional legal representation and wholeheartedly recommend his services to anyone in need of a skilled criminal defense attorney. Alex Z is not just a lawyer; he is a beacon of hope for those navigating the complexities of the legal system. If you find yourself in need of a dedicated and competent legal advocate, look no further than Alex Z.
Taïko Beauty
Taïko Beauty
I don’t know where to start, I can write a novel about this firm, but one thing I will say is that having my best interest was their main priority since the beginning of my case which was back in Winter 2019. Miss Claire Banks, one of the best Attorneys in the firm represented me very well and was very professional, respectful, and truthful. Not once did she leave me in the dark, in fact she presented all options and routes that could possibly be considered for my case and she reinsured me that no matter what I decided to do, her and the team will have my back and that’s exactly what happened. Not only will I be liberated from this case, also, I will enjoy my freedom and continue to be a mother to my first born son and will have no restrictions with accomplishing my goals in life. Now that’s what I call victory!! I thank the Lord, My mother, Claire, and the Spodek team for standing by me and fighting with me. Words can’t describe how grateful I am to have the opportunity to work with this team. I’m very satisfied, very pleased with their performance, their hard work, and their diligence. Thank you team!
Anthony Williams
Anthony Williams
Hey, how you guys doing? Good afternoon my name is Anthony Williams I just want to give a great shout out to the team of. Spodek law group. It is such a honor to use them and to use their assistance through this whole case from start to finish. They did everything that they said they was gonna do and if it ever comes down to it, if I ever have to use them again, hands-down they will be the first law office at the top of my list, thank you guys so much. It was a pleasure having you guys by my side so if you guys ever need them, do not hesitate to pick up the phone and give them a call.
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Loveth Okpedo
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Bee L
Bee L
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divesh patel
divesh patel
I can't recommend Alex Zhik and Spodek Law Firm highly enough for their exceptional legal representation and personal mentorship. From the moment I engaged their services in October 2022, Alex took the time to understand my case thoroughly and provided guidance every step of the way. Alex's dedication to my case went above and beyond my expectations. His expertise, attention to detail, and commitment to achieving the best possible outcome were evident throughout the entire process. He took the time to mentor me, ensuring I understood the legal complexities involved to make informed decisions. Alex is the kind of guy you would want to have a beer with and has made a meaningful impact on me. I also want to acknowledge Todd Spodek, the leader of the firm, who played a crucial role in my case. His leadership and support bolstered the efforts of Alex, and his involvement highlighted the firm's commitment to excellence. Thanks to Alex Zhik and Todd Spodek, I achieved the outcome I desired, and I am incredibly grateful for their professionalism, expertise, and genuine care. If you're in need of legal representation, look no further than this outstanding team.

4. Presenting Yourself in a Better Light

Judges tend to view defendants who take responsibility by pleading guilty in a more positive light at sentencing compared to those who show no remorse after a guilty verdict at trial.

Cons of Accepting a Plea Bargain

1. You Admit Guilt

This is the biggest drawback – by pleading guilty or no contest, you are admitting to having committed the crime(s). This will go on your permanent record and can impact employment, housing, immigration status, and more.

2. You Waive Your Right to Trial

When you accept a plea deal, you give up your constitutional right to a trial by judge or jury. You’ll never have the chance to potentially be exonerated and found not guilty.

3. Sentencing Remains Up to Judge

While the prosecutor makes a sentencing recommendation as part of the plea deal, the judge is not bound by it and can impose a harsher sentence if they choose.

4. Civil Liability Remains a Risk

Even if you plead guilty to a criminal charge, you can still potentially be sued in civil court by the victim or their family. A plea deal only resolves the criminal case.As you can see, there are valid arguments on both sides. The decision of whether to accept a plea bargain is a highly personal one that depends on your specific situation and priorities.

How Do Plea Bargains Work?

If you’re leaning towards accepting a plea deal, it’s crucial to understand exactly how the process works. Here are the typical steps:

  1. Charges Filed: After being arrested and charged, you’ll be asked to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty at your arraignment hearing.
  2. Plea Negotiations Begin: Your attorney and the prosecutor will begin discussing potential plea bargains behind the scenes. The negotiations can happen at any point after charges are filed up until right before trial.
  3. Deal is Offered: If the prosecutor decides to make you a plea offer, they’ll draft the specific terms in writing for you and your lawyer to review.
  4. You Accept or Reject: After carefully reviewing the deal with your attorney’s guidance, you can choose to accept and plead guilty/no contest or reject the offer and proceed to trial.
  5. Plea Hearing: If you accept, you’ll attend a plea hearing where the judge ensures you understand the rights you’re waiving and the consequences of pleading guilty. The judge must approve the deal.
  6. Sentencing: Assuming the judge accepts your plea, they’ll schedule a sentencing hearing where they’ll formally impose the agreed-upon penalties from the plea deal.

It’s important to note that plea negotiations happen entirely between your defense lawyer and the prosecutor. The judge is not directly involved in striking a plea bargain deal.Additionally, plea deals are not automatically binding. The judge has the discretion to reject the agreed-upon terms if they believe the proposed sentence is too lenient or for other reasons.

When Do Prosecutors Offer Plea Bargains?

Prosecutors have wide discretion in deciding when and if to offer defendants a plea bargain. However, there are some common situations where plea deals are more likely:

  • The Evidence is Weak: If the prosecutor’s case against you isn’t airtight, they may want to secure a conviction through a plea rather than risk an acquittal at trial.
  • To Reduce Court Backlogs: Plea bargains help reduce overwhelming court dockets and caseloads for prosecutors and judges. It’s an efficient way to resolve cases quickly.
  • The Crime is Relatively Minor: For lower-level offenses, prosecutors may prefer a plea to secure some punishment rather than expending resources on a trial.
  • You Have No Criminal Record: First-time offenders often receive more favorable plea offers compared to repeat offenders.
  • The Victim Prefers It: In cases with an identifiable victim, like assault or robbery, the victim’s preference for a plea deal can influence the prosecutor.

Ultimately, whether the prosecution extends a plea offer depends on the specific facts of the case and their assessment of their likelihood of securing a conviction at trial.

Should You Accept a Plea Deal? Factors to Consider

As you can see, there are plenty of pros and cons to weigh when it comes to plea bargains. So how do you decide if accepting one is the right move? Here are some key factors to consider:

The Strength of the Evidence Against You
If the prosecution has overwhelming evidence that seems likely to result in a conviction at trial, a plea deal becomes more appealing to avoid maximum penalties. But if the evidence is weak or circumstantial, going to trial may be worth the risk.

The Potential Sentence You’d Face if Convicted at Trial
For relatively minor crimes with light potential sentences, it may be worth risking a trial. But if you’re facing years or decades in prison if convicted, a plea deal providing significantly reduced jail time is more compelling.

Your Criminal History
First-time offenders tend to receive better plea offers compared to those with prior convictions on their record. So if this is your first brush with the law, that could make a plea deal more attractive.

Immigration Consequences
For non-U.S. citizens, certain criminal convictions – even from a plea deal – could result in deportation, revocation of visas or green cards, or inadmissibility. This may make going to trial preferable.

Collateral Consequences
Beyond just potential jail time and fines, consider how a criminal conviction from pleading guilty could impact your employment, professional licenses, housing situation, ability to own firearms, and more. These “collateral consequences” may sway your decision.At the end of the day, there’s no universal right or wrong answer. The decision of whether to accept a plea bargain depends entirely on your specific situation and priorities. That’s why it’s absolutely critical to have an experienced criminal defense lawyer advising you.

The Importance of Having an Aggressive Criminal Defense Lawyer

Navigating the criminal justice system and deciding whether to accept a plea deal is extremely complex with long-lasting ramifications. You need a skilled criminal defense attorney in your corner to:

  • Scrutinize the Evidence: An experienced lawyer can objectively evaluate the strength of the prosecution’s case against you to determine if going to trial is advisable.
  • Negotiate From a Position of Strength: A respected attorney who has established professional relationships with local prosecutors will be able to negotiate a better plea deal for you.
  • Explain All Your Options: Your lawyer’s role is to clearly lay out all possible paths forward – plea deal or trial – so you can make a fully informed decision.
  • Protect Your Rights: If you do accept a plea, your attorney ensures you understand all the rights you’re waiving and that the deal is truly in your best interests.
  • Advocate Aggressively at Sentencing: Even after a guilty plea, your lawyer will fight to argue for the most lenient possible sentence within the bounds of the deal.

At Spodek Law Group, our team of top criminal defense attorneys has decades of combined experience. We’ve handled the most complex, high-stakes cases and know how to secure the best possible outcome for our clients – whether through skilled negotiation of a plea deal or aggressive representation at trial.We understand that this is likely one of the most stressful, uncertain times in your life. But you don’t have to face it alone. Contact us today for a free, confidential consultation.

Frequently Asked Questions About Plea Bargains

Still have questions about plea bargains? Here are some FAQs that address common concerns:

Q: If I reject a plea deal, can the prosecutor “punish” me with harsher charges?

A: Legally, prosecutors cannot retaliate against you for exercising your constitutional right to a trial by adding additional charges. However, they may sometimes threaten this tactic as a negotiation ploy. An experienced defense lawyer will shut this down.

Q: Can I take a plea deal and still proclaim my innocence?

A: No, pleading guilty or no contest constitutes an admission of guilt to the charges. You cannot accept a plea bargain while still maintaining your innocence.

Q: If I accept a plea deal, do I still have a criminal record?

A: Yes, any conviction through a plea deal goes on your permanent criminal record, which can impact employment, housing, immigration status, and more. However, in some cases expungement or sealing of records may be possible down the road.

Q: Can the judge change the terms of my plea deal at sentencing?

A: Judges have discretion to reject or modify the specific terms of a negotiated plea deal if they deem the proposed sentence too lenient or for other reasons. However, they cannot unilaterally increase the charges or penalties beyond the original charges.

Q: If I’m innocent, is it safer to take a plea deal rather than risk a trial?

A: This is a common dilemma, but generally no – if you are factually innocent, you should not plead guilty under any circumstances. Going to trial is the best way to fight for your freedom and clear your name. Consult your lawyer.

Q: Can I change my mind after accepting a plea deal but before sentencing?

A: In some cases, yes – your lawyer may be able to file a motion to withdraw your guilty plea if it was not entered into knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently. But this is an uphill battle and generally inadvisable.

Contact Spodek Law Group Today

Deciding whether to accept a plea bargain or take your case to trial is one of the biggest decisions you’ll ever make. The consequences will have far-reaching impacts on your life, freedom, and future.That’s why it’s absolutely critical to have the right criminal defense lawyer in your corner – one with the experience, skill, and tenacity to protect your rights and fight for the best possible outcome.

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