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What defendants should know about plea bargains

For Ohio residents facing a criminal prosecution, a plea bargain may be a simple, inexpensive and relatively stress-free way to avoid having to go to trial and facing possible conviction by a jury. However, as FindLaw points out, before entering into a plea bargain, criminal defendants should discuss this option in detail with their attorneys and understand exactly what it entails. The consequences could impact them for many years to come.

The American Bar Association advises that plea bargains traditionally have been private negotiations between the prosecutor and the defendant’s attorney. This is slowly changing as some states, including Ohio, have begun to allow victim rights organizations to have input into the process.

Three types of plea bargains

Plea bargains fall into the following three categories:

  1. A charge bargain wherein the prosecutor agrees to drop one or more serious charges and the defendant agrees to plead guilty to one or more less serious charges
  2. A sentence bargain wherein the prosecutor agrees to recommend a lighter prison sentence and the defendant agrees that he or she will plead guilty to the crime(s) as charged
  3. A fact bargain wherein the prosecutor agrees to refrain from bringing up certain facts at trial and the defendant agrees that his or her attorney will not dispute certain other facts that will be brought up at trial

With regard to sentence plea bargains, defendants should be aware that judges are not bound by them. In other words, the judge can impose whatever sentence he or she feels is appropriate, regardless of what the prosecutor has recommended. In addition, defendants must realize that in both charge and sentence plea bargains, they voluntarily plead guilty to something and consequently are considered to have been convicted. This makes it virtually impossible for them to successfully appeal their conviction.

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