The Role of a Plea Bargain in Criminal Cases

plea bargain, guilty plea, Illinois criminal defense attorneyWith high-profile criminal prosecutions regularly capturing national attention and the intense dramatization of courtroom proceedings on television shows and movies, many may be led to believe that every criminal charge will play out in an oak-paneled room, in front of a duly-appointed judge and jury. The reality is, however, that less than ten percent of criminal cases ever reach trial, and in federal cases, only around three percent will ever be tried. Instead, the vast of majority of criminal proceedings are resolved by means of a plea bargain.

What is a Plea Bargain?

A plea bargain, in effect, is a negotiation between prosecutors and a defendant, which seeks to reach a resolution to the case without requiring a trial. During the process, a defendant generally will agree to plea guilty to the specified charge or a lesser charge in exchange for a lighter sentence and/or cooperation with the prosecution of related cases. The Illinois Supreme Court mandates that any plea bargain must be voluntary on the part of a defendant who clearly understands the charges and associated penalties.

Why is a Plea Bargain Used?

A trial judge in Illinois is not permitted to initiate plea bargain negotiations. Instead, they must be initiated by either the prosecution or defense, and may be done for several reasons. Prosecutors may seek a plea deal because, in any criminal case, the burden of proof rests on them, and a shortage of physical or circumstantial evidence could create difficulties at trial. In addition, the prosecution may also be seeking to gather evidence and testimony against defendants in future cases that the current defendant could be able to provide.

A defendant may also look to reach a plea agreement, as well, depending on the available evidence in the case and the nature of the charges. By avoiding the time and financial expense of trial, prosecutors, with approval from the court, are often willing to accept a guilty plea in return for lighter penalties or alternative sentences, such as diversion or drug-treatment programs. In addition, the uncertainty of a trial can lead to fears of wrongful conviction which may be somewhat alleviated by a plea bargain.

Every Case is Different

While plea bargains certainly help streamline the criminal justice system in many cases, there is concern that many plea deals are not as voluntary as they may appear. That is why if you have been charged with a crime, it is vital to seek representation from an experienced Illinois criminal defense attorney. Attorney Hal M. Garfinkel is a former prosecutor who understands the potential hazards of a poorly negotiated plea bargain. Contact our office today to schedule a free consultation and get the help you need in your case.

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