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Consult your attorney before accepting plea bargains

If you are facing criminal charges in a Kentucky court, at some point in the adjudication process, you will likely be presented with the opportunity to negotiate a plea bargain. The big question is whether or not you should take a plea at all.

It's helpful to keep in mind that plea bargains form the basis of approximately 90 percent of the total of all criminal cases in the United States. Without these useful arrangements, the American criminal justice system would be crushed under the sheer volume of all of the cases.

At their most basic, plea bargains are agreements between prosecutors and defendants to permit defendants to enter guilty pleas to lesser criminal charges. They rarely represent traditional justice the way trials are intended to do. When defendants accept plea bargains, they and the prosecutors mutually acknowledge the strengths and weaknesses of criminal cases. Sometimes plea bargains are the best possible outcomes for criminal charges.

There is nothing inherently wrong with accepting plea bargains, but they do leave defendants with criminal convictions on their records. Don't get manipulated into accepting a plea bargain just to lighten a prosecutor's caseload if the case against you is weak.

Most plea bargains fall into one of three categories:

  • Charge bargaining. This is the most common category for plea bargains. Defendants plead guilty to lesser charges, with the understanding that the more serious charges get dropped, e.g., accepting a guilty plea for manslaughter instead of going to trial for murder.
  • Sentence bargaining. This type of plea bargain isn't as common and the court retains more control. When sentence bargaining is on the table, it also involves judicial approval and may have conditions attached to it, such as agreeing to testify against co-defendants.
  • Fact bargaining. While this is type of plea bargaining rarely comes into play, it can sometimes be useful. Fact bargaining allows defendants to stipulate to specific facts in lieu of other facts being entered into evidence.

There is no hard and fast rule on whether to accept plea bargains, as the circumstances are largely evidence-dependent. You should always consult with your criminal defense attorney when deciding whether to go to trial or take a plea.

Source: FindLaw, "Plea Bargains: In Depth," accessed March 02, 2018

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