What’s a Plea Bargain?

A plea bargain is a deal made between the prosecutor and a defendant who is facing criminal charges to resolve the pending criminal case. The terms “plea bargain” and “plea deal” are interchangeable. When a deal is made, the prosecutor will agree to either dismiss or reduce criminal charges and/or recommend a sentence to the judge. In exchange, the defendant will have to give up their right to a trial and will admit guilt for one or more criminal charges. 

Plea bargains are subject to approval by the judge hearing the case. The agreements are common because they limit risk for both sides. Pleas are usually negotiated with the assistance of an experienced criminal defense lawyer.

What is a Guilty Plea?

When a prosecutor and defendant agree to a plea bargain, it will typically require that the defendant plead guilty to one or more criminal charges. When a defendant pleads guilty, the defendant will tell the judge that they committed a specific crime and accept full responsibility for their actions. 

The judge will require the defendant to state that the plea was not forced on them. Importantly, no criminal defendant can be required to plead guilty to a crime. The Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees citizens the right to a jury trial for any criminal charge.

What is a No-Contest Plea?

In most plea bargains, a guilty plea is the end result. In others, a no-contest plea occurs. In a no-contest plea, the defendant will not admit guilt or say anything to defend the specific charges. Instead, they will merely accept the consequences as if they pled guilty.

A no-contest plea is like a guilty plea because the defendant is convicted and treated by the court as if he or she pled guilty. 

There are two main reasons why a defendant might use a no-contest plea instead of a guilty plea:

  • The potential for civil liability against the defendant, or
  • The defendant simply can’t remember committing the crime (usually because of alcohol, drugs, or mental health condition)

Say the defendant pleads no contest to a crime, and a civil lawsuit is later filed against him for the same conduct. In that case, the no-contest plea can’t be used against the defendant. By contrast, a defendant’s guilty plea in a criminal case can and likely will be used in any future civil lawsuits.

How Regularly Do Plea Bargains Happen?

Plea bargains happen in over 90% of criminal cases, making it the most common way to resolve a criminal case. A prosecutor will often look to plea bargain to limit the risk of losing the case in front of a jury and also for court efficiency. A defendant will often show interest in a plea bargain to limit the potential for jail time and to be able to have some control over the final outcome.

Plea bargains are popular in drunk driving (OVI/DUI) cases because a plea bargain can help the defendant avoid jail and serious license sanctions.

When Can I Negotiate a Plea Bargain?

A plea bargain can be negotiated at any point up until a jury renders a verdict at a trial. Most plea bargains are not usually made at the 11th hour, but sometimes they are due to the circumstances of the case and trial. Plea bargains are typically negotiated early on in the case after the defendant has had the opportunity to review the evidence against them.

Plea bargains can even be made after a trial if the trial results in a hung jury. The defendant can then make a deal before charges are issued a second time.

Things to Know About a Kentucky Plea Bargain 

In Kentucky, a defendant will be sentenced at a level related to their plea bargain. Within the Kentucky Revised Statutes § 27A.420, the full terms of any plea bargain, including the information relating to the original charges and the agreed-upon charges, must be disclosed. This information also includes the charged offenses, potential jail or prison time, and any fines associated with a conviction. This will give the judge a full view of the original charges and what the plea bargain entails before they decide on a sentence.

Make Sure You Have an Attorney’s Assistance in Negotiating a Plea Bargain

It is highly recommended that you speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney before negotiating a plea bargain. It is important to understand the specific consequences that you might be facing. We offer a free consultation so you can have your case reviewed by an experienced professional.