Numerous criminal cases in America end up going through a process known as plea bargaining. In exchange for certain concessions, a criminal lawyer and the opposing prosecutor will agree on a guilty plea. For example, someone faced with assault and battery charges plus two years in jail might be able to bargain the plea down to simple assault and a lesser sentence.
This process requires attention to several areas of the plea deal. It's wise to understand which aspects of the agreement are most important and what their implications are.
While it's easy to assume the length of the sentence is the biggest concern in a plea bargain, the nature of the charges can mean a lot. There's a huge gap between pleading guilty to a misdemeanor versus a felony. It's especially important if a felony charge might lead to additional sanctions, such as registering as a sex offender, no longer working in a position of financial or public trust, or not owning a firearm. By bargaining, you might be able to avoid those sanctions and reduce the pain of dealing with life afterward.
For many clients, this is a big goal. No one wants to do a ton of jail time, and it's something a prosecutor can usually be flexible about. If trading a few months of the sentences gets a plea deal, a prosecutor will be happy in most cases to save the government's time and money.
Be aware, though, that mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines may install limits. While a judge might be able to go below the minimum, they'll usually be hesitant to do so unless the prosecution affirms you provide something of value, such as testimony against another party.
Where and How the Defendant Serves the Sentence
In some instances, it may also be possible to negotiate where you serve the sentence. Especially for folks who need access to facilities with certain types of medical care or visitation privileges, this can be a quality-of-life issue.
Likewise, some defendants are able to move some or all of the sentence to house arrest or even monitoring within a limited area around the home. The added freedom of those outcomes comes with monitoring costs, though, because the court will have to check in on you.
Fines and fees add up, but plea bargaining might be able to mitigate them. You almost certainly won't get off the hook for these entirely, but pleading guilty to a different charge might reduce them. Bear in mind, too, that restitution costs are non-negotiable.
For more information, reach out to a local criminal defense lawyer.