What is a plea agreement?

You might think that everybody knows what a plea agreement is, but as someone who is asked this question quite often, I can tell you that is untrue. For those out there who are unclear on what a plea agreement is, I will briefly walk through what they are and how they work.

A plea agreement is, as the second part of the name gives away, an agreement. Criminal cases all start out with charges being brought forward. At the initial hearing, the defendant will be asked how they plead, and the defendant can either answer with guilty or not guilty. The case will then proceed with the various discovery phases and everything else that goes on with a criminal case, occasionally going to trial.

The majority of cases at the state level (95-97 percent!) are resolved by way of a plea agreement. When a plea agreement is taken, instead of going all the way to trial where the case would be brought before a judge and jury, the defendant signs an agreement. This agreement states that the defendant accepts responsibility and pleads guilty to the crime. There are typically certain benefits that serve as incentives for taking a plea agreement. Let’s imagine that I was charged with five counts of a crime, and I agree to plead to one count. In exchange for pleading guilty to one count, the state may dismiss the other counts. Instead of having five convictions, I now have one conviction.

The state can do other things as well. They may agree to give what is called a suspended sentence, which removes from the table the prospect of going to prison and serving time. This gives you the peace of mind of knowing that even in the worst-case scenario, all of your time can be served in the community.

The process of arriving at these terms is what is called plea bargaining, which denotes a negotiation that goes back and forth. You will want to have an experienced defense attorney to represent you and fight for the best terms on your behalf.

That, ladies, and gentlemen, is a plea agreement. I hope that this has been helpful to you, and if you have any questions, always feel free to reach out to me. I am more than happy to talk with you. Until next time, remember- if you have to be guilty of anything, be guilty of greatness.