At the Law Offices of Johnson & Buh, we know that many criminal cases in Illinois never go to trial because the prosecutor offers and the defendant accepts a plea bargain. We also know that while a plea bargain may be the best choice for any given defendant, you should never accept one unless and until you know exactly what you are agreeing to do and the consequences thereof.
As FindLaw explains, a plea bargain is a negotiated agreement between the prosecutor and your attorney whereby the prosecutor agrees to do something in exchange for your doing something. Plea bargains generally fall into the following three categories:
- Charge bargains in which the prosecutor agrees to reduce the charges against you in exchange for your agreement to plead guilty to the new charges
- Sentence bargains in which you agree to plead guilty to the charges pending against you in exchange for the prosecutor agreeing to recommend to the judge that you receive a lighter than normal sentence
- Fact bargains in which your attorney agrees to stipulate to the truthfulness of certain facts in your case in exchange for the prosecutor agreeing not to bring up other facts
While charge bargains and fact bargains are pretty straightforward, sentence agreements are not. You need to realize that just because the prosecutor makes a sentencing recommendation to the judge does not mean that the judge must follow that recommendation. Since a judge is never part of a plea bargain, (s)he can sentence you as (s)he sees fit given all the circumstances of your case.
Advantages and disadvantages
One of the biggest advantages you receive from a plea bargain is that you save the time, expense and uncertainty of a jury trial. Despite TV shows to the contrary, no one can accurately predict what a jury will decide in any given case or on what piece(s) of evidence their verdict will hinge.
On the other hand, you have the constitutional right to a trial by a jury of your peers. You should never give up a constitutional right lightly. In addition, if you accept either a charge or sentence plea bargain, you will have to voluntarily admit your guilt in open court. This makes it virtually impossible for you to later change your mind and appeal your conviction.
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