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How does a plea negotiation work?

Many Fresno readers are probably aware that the vast majority of criminal cases throughout the country are resolved through a plea agreement. This doesn't mean that a solid criminal defense option doesn't exist in all of these cases - it just means that, in many cases, defendants who are facing all types of different criminal charges opt to end their cases quickly and agree to lighter penalties as a result.

Either the prosecution or the defense may begin a plea negotiation. From the prosecution's standpoint, it would be impossible to take every criminal case all the way through trial. There just isn't the time or the resources available for this kind of approach. For many misdemeanor cases and even many felony cases, prosecutors are often willing to discuss a plea agreement to end the case.

Although most criminal charges have a range of sentences available, both prosecuting attorneys and defense attorneys know that there is usually a "presumptive" sentence for any given charge. When sentencing is considered, the baseline or presumptive sentence is usually taken into account. However, there are a variety of factors that could lead the prosecuting attorney to take a firmer stance in insisting that the punishment be more than the presumptive sentence.

For instance, if a criminal defendant has a prior record of arrests and convictions, a prosecuting attorney may be less inclined to offer favorable terms in a plea negotiation. However, if a defendant is a first-time offender facing one charge, the proposed plea agreement will be almost standard. Plea negotiations can be sensitive areas of discussion, and each criminal defendant will need to make their own decisions about what the best approach to their case will be.

Source: www.americanbar.org, "How Courts Work," Accessed April 25, 2015

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