Plea bargaining plays an important role in the criminal justice system. Plea bargaining is usually a deal offered by a prosecutor to convince a defendant to plead guilty of a crime. There are two types of plea bargains—a charge bargain and a sentence bargain. In a charge bargain the defendant pleads guilty to a lesser charge or to just some of the charges against him. In a sentence bargain, the defendant is told in advance what the sentence will be if he pleads guilty.
Plea bargaining is important for defendants for several reasons. Of course the most important reasons for a defendant to accept a plea bargain are the fact that he may receive a lighter sentence to a lesser charge. A plea bargain resolves the matter much more quickly for the defendant (and the prosecutor, too). Also, if the defendant is represented by private counsel, he could save a lot of money by accepting a plea bargain. Finally, accepting a plea bargain may mean having a less serious crime on the defendant’s record.
Plea bargaining is important for prosecutors for several reasons. Plea bargaining is important because if all defendants went to trial, the courts would be overwhelmed and would not be able to function. In addition there is a cost savings to taxpayers when a plea bargain is reached and a trial avoided. Also, plea bargains may reduce overcrowding in prisons and make space available for truly heinous criminals. Finally, a plea bargain assures a guilty verdict. No matter the evidence, there is no such thing as a “slam dunk” when talking about a jury trial.
Plea bargaining is important to the criminal justice system. About 90 of convictions come from negotiated pleas.