A plea bargain (also plea agreement, plea deal or copping a plea) is an agreement in a criminal case whereby the prosecutor offers the defendant the opportunity to plead guilty, usually to a lesser charge or to the original criminal charge with a recommendation of a lighter than the maximum sentence.
A plea bargain allows criminal defendants to avoid the risk of conviction at trial on the original more serious charge. For example, a criminal defendant charged with a felony theft charge, the conviction of which would require imprisonment in state prison, may be offered the opportunity to plead guilty to a misdemeanor theft charge, which may not carry jail time.
In cases such as an automobile collision when there is a potential for civil liability against the defendant, the defendant may agree to plead no contest or "guilty with a civil reservation", which essentially is a guilty plea without admitting civil liability.
Plea bargaining can present a dilemma to defense attorneys, in that they must choose between vigorously seeking a good deal for their present client, or maintaining a good relationship with the prosecutor, for the sake of helping future clients.
In charge bargaining , defendants plead guilty to a less serious crime than the original charge. In count bargaining, they plead guilty to a subset of multiple original charges. In sentence bargaining, they plead guilty knowing in advance what sentence will be given. In fact bargaining, defendants plead guilty pursuant to an agreement in which the prosecutor stipulates to certain facts that will affect how the defendant is punished under the sentencing guidelines.
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