What are the Pros and Cons of Plea Bargaining?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

A plea bargain can have advantages and disadvantages for the defendant, the lawyers involved, and the criminal justice system in general. It often saves the time and expense of a trial, but it does typically mean that the defendant must plead guilty to some crime. Many people often wonder if justice is really served when a person pleads to a lesser offense and is given a lighter punishment than they might have had they been found guilty of the original charge.

Plea bargains can lighten the load of a court.
Plea bargains can lighten the load of a court.

When a person is accused of a crime, there is a good chance that his or her lawyer and the prosecuting attorney will attempt to work out a deal. In plea bargaining, the defendant willingly pleads guilty to a crime lesser than the one for which he or she has been accused. This means that no trial will occur and the defendant is convicted of a crime after entering a plea of no contest or guilty.

A lawyer may try to convince a client who is innocent to agree to a plea bargain.
A lawyer may try to convince a client who is innocent to agree to a plea bargain.

When there is strong evidence of a crime being committed, the person may be willing to admit to a less serious crime, but an innocent person might not be so eager. He or she would still claim guilt for the crime, and that could have serious ramifications. An innocent person may choose instead to ask for a jury trial, but there can be pressure from lawyers to avoid this, though ultimately it is the accused's right to choose a plea. The defendant's lawyer might be most convincing if the plea means no jail time, but even without incarceration, an innocent person may have just admitted to a crime that he or she didn't commit. This could mean carrying a criminal record, paying fines, or being on probation, regardless of innocence.

A plea bargain may lead to a lesser jail stay for a defendant.
A plea bargain may lead to a lesser jail stay for a defendant.

The defense attorney benefits from plea bargaining by avoiding the expense of a trial. He also reduces the charges against his client. On the other hand, he doesn't get to prove the innocence of a client and may occasionally try to convince people to plead guilty when they are not.

By pleading no contest, a defendant might be given community service instead of jail time in some cases.
By pleading no contest, a defendant might be given community service instead of jail time in some cases.

Prosecutors want to convict people charged of crimes, but they have huge caseloads and, typically, there is not enough time to prosecute every accused person in a trial. Bargaining delivers a conviction, but it may not be the strongest one possible. Usually, prosecutors prioritize trying exceptionally horrific cases, but they will be more willing to negotiate crimes that carry less weight.

There are a number of pros and cons of plea deals when it comes to the criminal courts. These are congested places that often welcome bargains since it means not having to schedule a trial, which just makes things busier. Still, it can be argued that a downside to many criminal cases being settled by plea is that true justice, which is the responsibility of the court to carry out, may be sidestepped in favor of expediency. In countries where right to a jury trial is considered sacrosanct, the busyness of a court should not be considered. Some believe all defending their innocence should never "plead down," and instead should always be given a jury trial.

Counseling as part of a probation programs often follows the acceptance pf a plea bargain.
Counseling as part of a probation programs often follows the acceptance pf a plea bargain.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


Crispety-I believe that if the judge has not signed the plea deal then it may be withdrawn. It is best to check with an attorney because different states have different laws regarding this measure.

It is also best to talk to an attorney and know your options with respect to a plea bargain because even though you are getting a lighter sentence it is a guilty conviction that might not allow you to work in certain industries.

It may make finding a job difficult, An attorney can show you how to plea bargain and can advise you if it is the best option because although your attorney has no way of predicting the jury verdict, he or she does have first hand knowledge of the jury that is presiding over the case because they helped select them through a voir dire procedure.


Icecream17-I wonder.Can you appeal a plea bargain?


Oasis11-I remember that case and I totally agree. If a man had committed the same crime they would have thrown the book at him.

I often wonder is plea bargaining fair? Often I look at cases like DUI plea bargaining in which a person was found guilty of drinking and driving.

I do not think that it is fair to allow such a person off on a plea bargain conviction. These people are endangering the lives of others when they choose to drink and drive and I personally do not feel that a crime like that in which the recidivism rate is very high, should receive a lighter sentence because they pled guilty.

I want to see these cases go to trial because I know that in most cases the jury will side with the prosecutor because it is reckless to drink and drive and there is really no excuse for it at all.

People that commit these crimes need to be scared and a trial will do that. Usually people that are pulled over for DUI have driven drunk many times before. This was just the one time they got caught.


Plea bargaining law was established to ease the burden on the legal system. With the backlog of cases, a plea bargain was set in some cases in order for the defendant to plea guilty thereby skipping the trial process and go straight to sentencing.

The sentencing as a result of the plea bargain is substantially lighter than if the defendant had gone to trial and been convicted. Criminal attorneys often advise their clients to accept the plea bargain because the risk of being found guilty at a trial might cause them a harsher sentence.

However, not in all cases does the defendant accept the plea bargain. In the famous Debra LaFave case about the striking young teacher that was accused of having a sexual relationship with her fourteen year old student in Florida rejected her plea bargain.

She and her attorney wanted to go to trial and she stated that it was due to reasons of insanity that she committed these crimes.

Her strategy worked and she spent no time in jail. Criminal lawyers and prosecutors were all discussing this case at length because many believed that the defendant received a lighter sentence because she was an attractive woman.

Many felt that should the roles be reversed and it was a man involved in a similar case he probably would have gotten a minimum of seven years in prison.

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