In California, plea bargaining allows a defendant to negotiate with a prosecutor to settle a case through a guilty or no-contest plea. Prosecutors do this in exchange for certain sentencing concessions. This prevents you from having to go to trial. Consult with a skilled California criminal defense attorney for guidance.
Table of contents
California Plea Deals
Consider the following points when considering a plea deal through your attorney.
- Both the defense and prosecution have incentives to bargain. These incentives avoid the risk, cost, and time commitments of a trial
- California law requires judges to approve plea agreements to ensure defendants enter them voluntarily and knowingly. You don’t have to accept a plea deal if you feel you have a strong case or wish to exonerate yourself from an unfair allegation.
- Typical agreements involve pleading guilty/no contest to lesser charges. Prosecutors offer this in exchange for lesser charges or the dismissal of a case.
- Defendants waive some of their rights by pleading guilty. Don’t take a plea deal if doing so outweighs the risks of going to trial.
- Several elements in plea deals are negotiated. These elements include incarceration time, the length of the probation period, restitution amounts, and which charges get retained or dropped
- A judge may reject a plea deal if the agreed outcome notably under-represents the offenses. Keep this in mind if your charges are serious. Ask about alternative solutions.
California’s legislative policy favors consensual plea bargaining between parties as an efficient means of bestowing mercy in a legal case. Doing so helps the judicial system support fairness principles and prosecutorial priorities.
Why Plea Bargaining Frequently Occurs in Court Cases?
It’s terrifying to think about what you may face after getting arrested for an alleged crime. However, plea bargaining can help you overcome your legal mistake with more leniency.
Therefore, plea bargaining is really just a legal compromise. It reduces the severity of your punishments or your time behind bars. It often lessons criminal caseloads as well, as it reduces the costs and time involved in preparing for trial.
Negotiating with the Prosecutor
While plea bargaining doesn't necessarily guarantee the avoidance of penalties, such as jail time, it often results in far milder consequences than if you were found guilty after a long and drawn-out trial.
For anyone facing charges in California, plea bargaining may provide a lifeline that removes the stress and uncertainty that we often associate with going to trial.
By devising a strategy and seeking legal counsel, you’ll hold more power in shaping a more favorable legal defense while eliminating the risks of a court trial.
Understanding Plea Bargaining and How It Works in California
As the defendant, you have the right to accept or reject any plea offer. If you choose to accept, you’ll plead guilty in court based on the agreed charges.
The judge will then determine your sentence based on these charges. You’ll most likely see reduced jail time and a shorter probation period, including lower fines. In some cases, a court may even drop certain charges.
Plea deals may also result in court-ordered rehabilitation, counseling, and community service instead of incarceration.
Judicial Decisions and Plea Deals
When a judge reviews plea deals, they consider the probative value, or how much the criminal defense lawyer’s argument proves the validity of the facts of a case.
Therefore, a judge must answer the following questions to decide on the merits of a plea deal.
- How is the evidence logically related to the main arguments of the defendant?
- How important is the issue to the resolution of a case?
- How necessary is the evidence?
While some litigators believe that plea bargaining creates a more efficient judicial system, others dispute that plea deals may also force defendants into accepting bargains rather than seeing the benefits of going to trial.
Therefore, it’s important to remember that only you can accept a deal or elect to go to trial. It’s entirely up to you. Your lawyer should support you, whatever you decide.
How does the Prosecution benefit from a Plea Deal?
They would otherwise use for a trial. At the same time, they still secure a conviction. Compromising on the charges produces more of a win-win situation for both parties.
To ensure the best outcome during the plea bargaining process, you should hire an experienced criminal defense attorney who can negotiate effectively on your behalf and is well-versed in arbitration and negotiation.
Your attorney will leverage the weaknesses in the prosecution’s or any mitigating circumstances. Additionally, your attorney can argue for the dismissal of charges if there is evidence to the contrary.
The Advantages of Plea Bargains for Defendants: Taking a Closer Look
For individuals facing criminal charges, a plea bargain, once again, offers certain distinct advantages, some of which we will explain more in depth below.
Prosecutors frequently agree to drop or downgrade some charges in exchange for a plea deal based on incongruencies in a case. This can make a difference in potentially reducing years of imprisonment and receiving probation and a fine. Even pleading guilty to a lesser version of the same charge can have a major impact.
Judges generally impose lighter sentences on those who plead guilty compared to those who go through a trial. By accepting responsibility for your actions, you demonstrate remorse, which judges consider when sentencing.
Therefore, a plea deal may limit your sentence and lead to a more lenient punishment, such as community service or probation, instead of jail time.
There are no guarantees that a jury will rule in your favor. Opting for a plea bargain provides more certainty in an uncertain situation.
Lower Legal Fees
Plea bargaining eliminates the need for a trial, saving you the time and money you’ll need to spend on legal fees. Trials require preparation, and your legal expenses can skyrocket as proceedings drag on - sometimes for months or even years.
Opting for a plea deal offers a resolution within weeks at a dramatically reduced cost overall.
Common Crimes Eligible for Plea Deals in California
In California, numerous crimes qualify for plea bargaining and the reduction of charges or penalties. Prosecutors even consider plea deals in violent crimes.
Charges of violence such as assault, battery, and domestic violence often go through plea bargaining deals. For example, let’s look at how an attorney might plead down in a case of assault.
How an Attorney May Plead Down a Case of Assault?
- Argue insufficient evidence of intent - If there is little evidence showing the defendant intended to cause harm or injury, a lawyer can negotiate down a charge from assault to reckless endangerment or disorderly conduct.
- Leverage weak witness testimony - If the victim/eyewitnesses tell inconsistent accounts or have credibility issues, their shaky testimony reduces prosecutorial confidence. This allows your attorney to make a deal.
- Claim-mitigating circumstances - Demonstrating the defendant acted in perceived self-defense, had diminished mental capacity, which inhibits intent, or that someone unfairly provoked the defendant can sometimes lead to reduced charges.
- Provide a no criminal record incentive - Prosecutors may reduce charges significantly if the defendant has a clean record that they believe will remain unblemished after a plea deal.
- Volunteer a restitution/rehabilitation commitment - Offering to pay a victim’s medical bills, take anger management courses, or comply with a restraining order can help secure a resolution that leads to reduced charges.
Though much depends on the strength of evidence and the severity of a victim’s injuries, an experienced California criminal attorney can use numerous avenues to defend their client’s actions. Therefore, plea bargaining often is used to make the punishments more proportional to the facts of the crime.
Crimes involving property, such as theft, fraud, forgery, and vandalism, are frequently resolved through plea deals. For instance, a defendant might choose to plead guilty to a count of theft in exchange for the dismissal of other theft-related charges. As part of the negotiation process, punishments like jail time, fines, and restitution are not as severe.
Pleading Down a Charge for Robbery or Theft
More precisely, a court may reduce a charge for robbery or theft if a skilled lawyer can prove or argue the following points.
- Argue doubtful proof of theft - If the evidence showing an actual taking of property is questionable, a court can possibly reduce the charge to attempted robbery or burglary.
- Dispute the use of a weapon - If the other side can’t show sufficient evidence that the defendant used a weapon, the prosecutor might agree to reduce the charges to petty theft or larceny.
- Leveraging the victim’s injuries - If the victim suffered minor physical harm, the prosecutor may accept a pleading of assault or battery and throw out the robbery or theft charge.
- Challenging the identification - Eyewitness mistakes happen often - if the defense casts credible doubt on the reliability of whoever identified the defendant, lesser counts may suffice.
- Provide restitution - By offering to pay back stolen money or items, prosecutors may reduce the charges, especially for first-time offenders.
Again, an adept plea bargaining defense lawyer will exploit every viable angle - undermining the most serious allegations while positioning their client’s actions in the most favorable light.
Drug-related offenses involving possession or sale of substances frequently undergo plea deals as well.
Pleading Down Drug-Related Charges
Skilled defense lawyers may use several effective strategies to negotiate and plead down drug possession or distribution charges to a lesser offense.
- Insufficient weight - If the seized narcotics are barely over the minimum thresholds for a felony charge, a lawyer may argue that the court should reduce the charge.
- Circumstantial evidence - When drugs were not found directly on the defendant, a lawyer may challenge the assumption of possession or intent to distribute.
- First-time offense - Defendants without prior drug arrests may plead a deal to reduce their penalties.
- Peripheral involvement - Sometimes, a criminal defense lawyer can convince a prosecutor that they have bigger fish to fry by painting defendants, at worst, as marginal accessories in a drug-related crime. This can lead to reduced charges.
- Test lab discrepancies - Identifying sloppy lab results can assist in reducing a drug-related charge or sentence or dismissing a drug-related charge after an arrest.
- Producing contradictory security footage - Surveillance equipment may reveal that a defendant is not as guilty as the prosecutor is alleging.
In some cases, you can avoid jail time altogether if your attorney can plead down a charge of a minor drug violation.
DUI and Hit-and-Run Violations
Lawyers may also plead down a DUI charge or hit-and-run violation. For instance, a high-risk defendant in California can avoid prison time and take part in a Drug Court program meant to reduce recidivism and help the defendant with a substance use disorder (SUD) get the rehab help they need.
Pleading Down a DUI or Hit-and-Run Charge or Getting a Case Dismissed
DUI plea deals or court case dismissals may be based on any of the following arguments when pleading down a DUI or hit-and-run charge:
- Disputing blood alcohol content (BAC) accuracy - Faulty breathalyzer calibration/handling, medical conditions, or testing delays allowing dissipation can sometimes invalidate BAC readings.
- Challenging the field sobriety tests - Lack of dash cam footage, improper administration of balance/coordination tests, or health conditions that may have impaired a defendant, even when sober, can open a plea to reckless driving instead.
- The charge is for a first offense - If the defendant has had no prior arrests, a lawyer can plead down the charge and the resulting punishments.
The following arguments may help plead down hit-and-run charges:
- Claiming an unawareness or lack of positive proof that the driver knew the collision occurred with a person or property. This may allow a reduction of a hit-and-run charge to reckless driving.
- Implicating a third party as more blameworthy and filing a claim without the defendant’s knowledge. This action may also lead to a dismissal if the allegation is false or fraudulent. Criminals may also use tactics that lead to wrecks that make the driver look guilty in a staged accident.
Negotiating With Prosecutors for a Favorable Plea Deal
As a defendant, you have an opportunity to leverage your position with the prosecutor. Here are some tips to consider;
Developing a defense strategy.
Collaborate closely with your criminal defense attorney to identify any weaknesses in the prosecution’s case against you. Your attorney can also guide you on making counteroffers.
Being open to compromise
Recognize that attaining the outcome you want may not be feasible, so approach negotiations with a willingness to compromise. Be receptive to considering counter offers from the prosecutor, provided they are reasonable.
Generally speaking, a lesser form of punishment is usually preferable to facing the penalties that may result from going forward with a trial.
Speak to an Attorney About Your Criminal Defense Right Away
With guidance from a Criminal, DUI, & License Defense attorney, you’ll possess the ability to negotiate for a resolution to your criminal defense case more quickly. With their knowledge and advocacy, you can reduce or even drop the charges currently lodged against you.