What Does It Mean to Accept a Plea Bargain?

In the United States, over 90 percent of cases are settled via plea bargains.

Damian Delune

--

Photo by Colin Lloyd on Unsplash

Plea bargains, also called deals or negotiated pleas, are how over 90 percent of court cases are resolved in the United States. It’s an agreement between the defendant and a prosecutor where the defendant agrees to plead guilty or no contest (nolo contendere), in exchange for a reduction in sentence and/or a lesser offense.

This means less than 10 percent of criminal cases ever go to trial.

There is also a little known form of plea called an Alford Plea, based on case law determined through The State of North Carolina vs Alford. Also known as a “best-interests plea,” an Alford plea registers a formal claim neither of guilt nor innocence toward charges brought against a defendant in criminal court. Like a nolo contendere plea, an Alford plea arrests the full process of criminal trial because the defendant — typically, only with the court’s permission — accepts all the ramifications of a guilty verdict (i.e. punishment) without first attesting to having committed the crime.

Criminal trials can last for days, weeks, or even months and most court systems don’t have the ability to seat the number of trials that would ensue based on the number of crimes charged. Pleas can often be arranged in moment. Most importantly, especially for a defendant, the outcome of a trial is unpredictable. When facing a criminal charge with a long sentence required upon conviction after trial, most defendants will take a lesser charge/time in the form of a plea deal.

Does this mean the defendant is guilty?

Not necessarily. Oftentimes, speaking from my own case, the threat of a 25 year sentence was enough for me to consider a plea bargain. No, I didn’t commit the crime I was charged with, but the fact remains, there was absolutely no way for me to know what a jury would decide. Certain ‘facts’ in my case were able to be concealed by the prosecution, only to be divulged during trial. I wasn’t willing to risk potentially spending 25 years in prison for something I didn’t do, so I took a plea deal.

In the eyes of the court, when you accept a plea bargain, you are guilty. It will show up on your…

--

--

Damian Delune

Incarcerated writer sharing real stories about life on the inside, through my wife, Demeter Delune (editor, publisher, promoter, responder)