The wheels of justice would probably stop turning entirely if plea deals didn’t provide the grease to keep them moving. Plea deals (plea bargains) are agreements made between the prosecution and the defense – usually in the interest of resolving the case as quickly and easily as possible.
Several types of plea deals are possible, including the following:
This is when the prosecutor agrees to reduce the charges against the defendant in exchange for a guilty or “no contest” plea. For example, a charge of aggravated assault may be reduced to simple assault, resulting in a less severe sentence for the defendant.
Sentence reductions or recommendations
The prosecutor may agree to reduce the sentence that would ordinarily be imposed if the defendant were convicted at a trial. For example, a defendant who faces one to five years in prison for a drug offense might be able to negotiate for the very minimum (or even probation) instead of risking that five-year sentence upon conviction.
Deferred prosecutions or diversions
Sometimes a prosecutor will agree to defer prosecution or allow a defendant into a diversion program. If the defendant meets certain conditions, such as completing drug treatment or community service, they won’t be prosecuted. They may even have their record cleaned.
Often, the prosecutor will agree to dismiss certain charges against the defendant in exchange for a guilty or no contest plea to whatever charges remain. For example, a defendant might be facing multiple drug paraphernalia charges (one for every baggie in their possession), but a prosecutor might be willing to dismiss all but one charge. This could have the net effect of drastically reducing whatever sentence the defendant might face.
Plea deals are not always easy to understand, and they are not something you can negotiate on your own. That’s why it’s smart to get some experienced legal guidance that’s specific to your situation as you contemplate your defense options.