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How does a plea bargain work?

If you've been arrested and are facing a potential trial, one thing your attorney may talk to you about is plea bargaining. A plea bargain isn't something that only occurs in special circumstances. In fact, it's often a practical alternative for the court systems, which would be overwhelmed with cases if they couldn't be settled outside the courtroom.

If you're offered a plea bargain or want to negotiate for one, here's what you need to know. First, plea bargaining saves you time and money. You don't need an attorney to defend you at trial if you take a plea deal, and you avoid the risk of facing a more serious penalty if you are convicted during a trial.

A plea bargain takes away the uncertainty of your case. You know exactly what will be expected of you if you accept the plea, instead of risking the outcome in court with a jury of your peers. The courts like to work with plea bargains because they cut down on the time and money spent taking a case to court. Trying every person who commits a crime is simply impossible.

Your attorney or the prosecution can suggest a plea bargain. Both sides need to agree before one will be accepted. The judge will also have to agree, since most plea bargains have to be approved by the court. Sometimes, charges can be dropped or altered without the court's approval if you agree to the prosecution's terms. For example, if the prosecution wants you to plead guilty, it might offer to make a second-degree assault case into a misdemeanor to get you to agree.

Your attorney can provide more information about a plea bargain, but accepting the deal is your choice.

Source: American Bar Association, "How Courts Work," accessed Dec. 15, 2016

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