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Deal or No Deal: The Legal and Social Pressure to Accept a Plea Bargain

Contributed by Alicia Canfield.

What is a Plea Bargain?

A plea bargain usually involves reducing the original criminal charge to a lesser offense for a more lenient punishment. A plea bargain may or may not include jail time, in addition to fines and court costs. The amount of jail time offered by a plea bargain is usually less than the amount of time a defendant would serve while waiting in custody for trial.

It is no secret that in the criminal justice system cases can drag out for months, sometimes even years. During these long delays, defendants are under extreme pressure both in their criminal case and their daily life, such as the stress of a trial and losing their employment or housing, to accept a plea bargain.

Legal Pressure

A plea bargain for a lesser offense can reduce the legal pressure on a defendant with a criminal history. Judges and prosecutors will look at a defendant’s criminal history when considering sentencing. For example, if a defendant already has a criminal history, a plea bargain may offer a more lenient punishment than they would receive from a judge or jury during sentencing. Also, if a defendant pleas to a lesser offense, such as a misdemeanor rather than a felony, they are in a better position for sentencing and negotiation for any offenses they may face in the future.

While there are options to get out of custody, such as bail or a release on their own recognizance, many defendants have to fight to be granted bail and even then, cannot afford the bail amount set. For those who cannot afford bail and remain in custody, the pressure to get out and return to the responsibilities of their daily life can be enough to accept a plea bargain to get released, regardless of actual innocence.

Social Pressure

While in custody awaiting trial, a defendant is unable to continue their employment, pay their bills, or care for their family. All too often resulting in the loss of employment, loss of housing, and loss of overall stability for their family.

Notably, a plea bargain does not prevent a criminal record from being public. Criminal offenses carry a social stigma, especially sex crimes and domestic violence, which can impact a defendant’s future. A trial can earn a lot of attention from the media and public, usually meaning that a defendant and their family are subject to intense exposure of their private life. Accepting a plea for a lesser offense can provide an opportunity for the defendant to protect their relationship with their family and their reputation within the community, but that doesn’t always mean a defendant is guilty or that it is the best option for them.

For help determining what your best option might be or removing a criminal charge from your record, Miller | Butler has a team of attorneys ready to advocate for you.

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