Plea bargains

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Updated: 4/13/2007 3:35 pm
Frequently, a prosecutor may offer to change the charges in a particular case in return for a plea of not 'guilty' or 'no contest.' For the criminal justice system, this means that a case may be quickly processed without the need of an expensive and time-consuming jury trial. For a suspect charged of with serious crime, a plea bargain may give the opportunity of a lighter sentence, or the benefit of having a less-serious conviction put on his or her criminal record. If a person has previously been convicted of drunk driving, for example, a second conviction may result in a stiff jail sentence. In return for a plea of 'guilty,' a prosecutor may change the charge to one of reckless driving, thus significantly reducing the sentence. Plea-bargaining is also a way of avoiding a criminal record with some social stigma, for example by reducing a charge from sexual molestation or rape to assault. Plea-bargaining may increase the efficiency of an overloaded criminal justice system, but the extent to which it is used is controversial. Today, only about ten percent of criminal cases ever go to trial, the great majority being settled by an immediate guilty plea or a plea bargain. Some states limit the precise stages of the criminal process in which plea bargains can be made; other states permit plea bargains to be struck at any time during the process prior to the jury's pronouncement of a verdict. If you've been charged with a crime and the prosecutor offers you a plea bargain, your attorney can inform you of the various options and alternatives open to you and advise you of your best course of action.

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