Posted On: November 8, 2012

What Is A Plea Bargain?

If you’ve never been arrested, chances are you don't fully understand what a plea bargain is and when and if one might be used to your advantage after being arrested. Understanding strategic issues like this will assist in your defense by any Norfolk County criminal defense lawyer that you may hire.

In essence, a plea bargain, which is formally called a "Tender of Plea" or informally a plea agreement, is an agreement in a Massachusetts criminal case between the defendant's attorney and the particular District Attorney's Office that is prosecuting the case. Under such an agreement, the defendant agrees to either plead guilty to, or to not contest a specific criminal count(s) in exchange for some type of concession from the prosecutor. What this typically means is that the defendant typically pleads guilty or "Admits To Sufficient Facts" to a less serious crime(s) than the one(s) he was originally charged with. An "Admission To Sufficient Facts" is also called a plea entry of "Continued Without A Finding," or "CWOF." When a CWOF is agreed to, it means that the defendant essentially admits that the District Attorney's Office has sufficient evidence against the defendant that, if the case were to go to trial, the prosecution would be able to prove the charges against the defendant.

When a criminal defense attorney advises a client to enter such a plea agreement, it is almost certainly done because the attorney does not feel that a trial is likely to result in a finding of not guilty by either a jury or judge. These plea agreements are employed when the prosecution's evidence against the defendant is so strong that a trial on the merits is not legally advisable. In such instances, the defendant can receive a strategic benefit: In exchange for his plea bargain, the defendant receives either a reduction in the charges against him, a recommendation from the prosecutor for a more lenient sentence, or dismissal of additional charges that were originally brought against the defendant. For example, a criminal defendant who is charged with a felony that carries a state prison sentence upon conviction - for example, Grand Theft Larceny in Massachusetts - might be offered the chance to plead guilty to a less serious misdemeanor theft charge instead. The upside here? The misdemeanor conviction may not require a jail term.

However, before entering into any such plea agreement such as an Admission To Sufficient Facts or a CWOF, it is critically important for a criminal defendant to remember that in entering such a plea, he or she voluntary waives their constitutional right to a jury trial, together with any appeal rights.

Plea bargaining has typically been viewed as a voluntary exchange that leaves both parties - the defendant and the prosecution - better off than pursuing a trial. Sometimes it can be a tough call for a criminal defense attorney, because criminal defendants in Massachusetts have many substantial constitutional rights, and it is the defense attorney's professional responsibility to very aggressively defend his or her client. However, sometimes by either pleading guilty to or admitting to a lesser charge, a defendant may receive concessions that in his attorney's judgment are of greater strategic and legal value than the right to a trial.

In Massachusetts, plea bargaining is a major part of the criminal courts and the criminal justice system. It is estimated that a little over 50 per cent of criminal cases will often involve some form of plea agreement, whether major or minor, in lieu of a trial by jury.