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What is a plea bargain and why would you use one?

A plea bargain is a tactic that the authorities use to keep trials from getting to court. The advantage for the government is that the process is faster and cheaper when settling criminal charges this way.

In the plea bargain, the defendant has to plead guilty to at least one charge and perhaps more. This will usually be a lesser charge than the person would have faced if the case had gone to trial.

For instance, a person who is going to stand trial for assault and battery may use a plea bargain to plead guilty to disorderly conduct.

The advantage for the defendant is that he or she then gets a more lenient sentence, as opposed to being convicted on the initial charge. In some cases, the bargain will also dismiss other charges that the person may have been facing, such as being intoxicated in public. So the advantages for the defendant are that the person only has a conviction on one count and that it's a more minor charge with a lesser sentence.

The disadvantage for the defendant, of course, is that he or she now has to accept the guilty plea. The chance to fight the charges and get out with nothing is gone. If the person cares about clearing his or her name entirely, that chance is also gone.

So, is a plea bargain right for you? There are many factors to consider, and the answer differs from one case to the next. Just make sure you understand all of your legal options before you decide what you want to do.

Source: FindLaw, "Plea Bargain," accessed Jan. 17, 2018

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