If you find yourself facing criminal charges in Virginia, you probably can expect the prosecutor to offer you a plea bargain at some point. But should you accept it? That depends on the nature of the bargain offered plus the nature of the consequences that acceptance entails.
FindLaw explains that plea bargains take the following three forms:
- Sentence reduction bargains wherein you agree to plead guilty to the charge(s) against you and the prosecutor agrees to recommend to the judge that (s)he impose a lighter than normal sentence
- Charge reduction bargains wherein you agree to plead guilty to one or more lesser charges and the prosecutor agrees to dismiss the original charges against you
- Fact bargains wherein you agree to stipulate to the truthfulness of certain facts regarding your case and the prosecutor agrees not to bring up certain other facts
Plea bargain pros and cons
It goes without saying that you should never accept a plea bargain without the advice and counsel of your attorney. Only (s)he can fully explain what benefits you will receive as opposed to what consequences you will face. In general, however, accepting either a sentence reduction or charge reduction plea bargain will minimize the amount of time it takes for your case to resolve, plus the amount of money you will need to spend to defend it. In addition, you will not face the uncertainties of a jury trial where anything can happen.
On the other hand, accepting a plea bargain puts you in the position of having to admit your guilt in open court. This makes it very difficult for you to successfully appeal your conviction. Perhaps even more troubling, however, is the fact that in a sentence reduction plea bargain, the prosecutor only recommends that the judge impose a lighter sentence. The judge need not follow the prosecutor’s recommendation. Finally, regardless of the unknowns inherent in a jury trial, the Constitution guarantees you the right to a trial by a jury of your peers. You should never give up a constitutional right without full and careful consideration.