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The good, the bad and the ugly about plea deals

These days, a criminal case is more likely to be resolved via a plea bargain than it is through a trial – but what exactly does that mean for you, if you’re the one accused of a crime?

Plea deals are supposed to be a compromise that helps the state and the defendant, but they can come with significant pitfalls.

What’s the good part of a plea deal?

Plea deals benefit the state because the courts are often overwhelmed and trials are expensive. They allow for more efficient movement within the judicial system. 

As a trade-off, defendants are usually able to secure more lenient sentences through plea deals than they might at trial, whether through negotiated sentences or “charge bargaining,” which strips some of the most serious offenses out of the equation. This also gives defendants faster closure, which can reduce their anxiety and – in many cases – help them get back to their lives sooner.

What’s the bad part of a plea deal?

One of the biggest concerns is that there’s a lot of inequality when it comes to bargaining power. Defendants with limited resources or poor legal representation can be a huge disadvantage when it comes to obtaining favorable outcomes. 

Also, a plea agreement still goes down as a conviction on a defendant’s record. That can have serious long-term consequences for their future, even if they escape jail time with the current case. That record could haunt them if they’re ever charged with another crime, and it could affect their ability to find jobs and housing, pursue an education and more.

What’s the ugly side of plea deals?

Innocent people feel pressure to accept plea bargains because they’re afraid of the consequences if they force a case to trial and lose – and that can lead to systemic inequalities within the justice system, particularly for those people who are already marginalized.

Ultimately, you should never consider a plea deal until you fully understand the charges against you, the options you have for a defense and all the possibilities. Legal guidance is wise.


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