Facing criminal charges can be a frightening experience. The legal system can be complex, and understanding your options is crucial. One option often presented by prosecutors is a plea bargain.

Understanding the benefits and drawbacks of accepting a plea bargain from experienced criminal defense law firms, like Cohen & Bernstein LLC, can empower you to make informed decisions about your case.

What is a Plea Bargain?

A plea bargain is an agreement between the prosecutor and the defendant. In exchange for the defendant pleading guilty to a lesser charge or a specific number of charges, the prosecutor agrees to recommend a reduced sentence or other concessions.


Plea bargains are extensively used in the criminal justice system to resolve cases efficiently and avoid lengthy trials.

Benefits of Accepting a Plea Bargain

  • Reduced Sentence: The most significant benefit of a plea bargain is often a lighter sentence than what you might face if convicted at trial. This can mean less jail time, lower fines, and a less severe criminal record.

  • Certainty of Outcome: Going to trial involves uncertainty. A plea bargain removes this element by guaranteeing a specific sentence or outcome.

  • Avoiding a Lengthy Trial: Trials can be stressful and time-consuming. A plea bargain allows for a quicker resolution to your case, saving you time and emotional distress.

  • Potential for Dropped Charges: In some plea bargains, the prosecutor might agree to drop certain charges in exchange for your guilty plea on others.

Selective focus shot of male hands in handcuffs on a wooden table

Drawbacks of Accepting a Plea Bargain

  • Criminal Record: Even with reduced charges, a guilty plea still results in a criminal record. This can have long-term consequences for employment, housing, and educational opportunities.

  • Giving Up Your Right to a Trial: By accepting a plea bargain, you relinquish your right to a trial by jury. This means you give up the chance to present your defense and potentially have a judge or jury find you not guilty.

  • Potential for a Harsher Sentence: While plea bargains often involve reduced sentences, there's always the possibility that the judge might reject the plea agreement and impose a harsher sentence.

  • Limited Appeal Rights: Your appeal rights might be restricted after accepting a plea bargain.

Consider Your Options

The decision of whether to accept a plea bargain is highly personal and depends on the specific circumstances of your case. Here are some factors to consider:

  • The strength of the prosecution's case.

  • The potential penalties if convicted at trial.

  • The terms of the plea bargain being offered.

  • Your own risk tolerance and desire to fight the charges.

Consulting an Attorney

Before accepting a plea bargain, consulting an experienced criminal defense attorney is crucial. They can review your case, explain the pros and cons of the plea bargain on the table, and advise you on your legal options.

An attorney can also negotiate with the prosecutor on your behalf to try to secure a more favorable agreement.

By understanding the benefits and drawbacks of accepting a plea bargain and consulting a qualified legal professional, you can make an informed decision that protects your rights and best interests.

Seeking Alternatives to Plea Bargains

While plea bargains are common, they aren't the only option. Here are some alternatives to consider with your attorney:

  • Suppression Hearing: If evidence against you was obtained illegally, your lawyer might seek its suppression through a pre-trial hearing. A successful outcome can significantly weaken the prosecutor's case.

  • Trial by Jury: If you believe you have a strong defense and are willing to take the risk, going to trial can lead to a not-guilty verdict.

  • Pre-Trial Diversion Programs: Depending on the charges and your background, you might be eligible for pretrial diversion programs. These programs often involve completing community service, education courses, or substance abuse treatment in exchange for the dismissal of charges.

Exploring these alternatives with your lawyer can help you determine the best course of action for your specific situation.