Plea Bargaining in Los Angeles, CA
What is plea bargaining?
Plea bargaining is the process whereby the defendant (the accused) and the prosecutor work out a mutually satisfactory resolution of the criminal case without going to trial. What generally occurs in plea bargaining is that the defendant, with the assistance of his or her defense lawyer, pleads guilty or no contest to a lesser charge or to one or some of the criminal charges in exchange for a reduced sentence.
Accepting a Plea Bargain vs. Going to Trial
Most people charged with committing a crime must decide whether to go to trial or to accept a plea bargain. Plea bargains are available to the innocent and guilty, alike. The reason a prosecutor may engage in a plea bargain even when the prosecutor believes the defendant is guilty is that they cannot go to trial on every case. There are not enough courts or prosecutors to try every case and some prosecutors have enormous caseloads.
Some cases are just weak and witnesses are unavailable or reluctant to testify, and a prosecutor may feel it is better to get a conviction and some punishment than none at all. Likewise, even a totally innocent defendant, may want to plea bargain because you never know what will happen in trial. If you get a good jury, you may win. Get a bad jury and an inexperienced trial lawyer and you may lose even if you are innocent. A plea bargain lets you know in advance what you are pleading to and the exact punishment.
Plea Bargains in Los Angeles County
In Los Angeles County, prosecutors are under significant pressure to negotiate plea agreements– in California, a criminal trial costs approximately $10,000 per day to prosecute, prosecutors have heavy caseloads, the county jails are crowded and the criminal court calendars are full. A plea offer is made in almost every case; but the decision about whether to accept a plea bargain belongs to the defendant alone.
It is extremely important to hire a criminal defense lawyer who understands the details and consequences of a plea offer, who will aggressively negotiate when his client can get a better deal, who is willing to take a case to trial, and who has the experience to win. A plea bargain is a victory in some cases, especially when an attorney successfully negotiates a reduced sentence or completely avoids county jail or state prison.
How Plea Bargaining Works
Plea bargaining can happen at almost any point of a criminal prosecution – from the initial court appearance (arraignment) to the steps of the courthouse on the first day of trial. In most plea bargains, the person charged pleads guilty or no contest (sometimes to a lesser charge) for a less serious sentence and/or for a dismissal of certain charges.
For example, if the defendant has been charged with felony domestic violence or a misdemeanor DUI offense in Los Angeles, the following plea bargains could be struck by the prosecutor and the defendant's defense attorney:
- Guilty plea for misdemeanor domestic violence instead of a felony.
- Guilty plea for a simple DUI instead of a DUI with injury.
- Guilty plea for reckless driving instead of a standard DUI/DWI.
The prosecutor may even agree to reduce the DUI charge to a traffic infraction in some cases. Plea bargains can be complex and depend heavily on the strength of the prosecution's case. The prosecutor's offer will also probably get better as the trial date gets closer. Usually, it is not in the defendant's best interest to accept the first plea offer.
Before agreeing to any plea agreement, a defendant should understand:
- If they will receive a lesser penalty than what could be expected from trial.
- What the sentence is and when they will be eligible for probation or parole.
- Whether pleading guilty will have collateral consequences
- If the plea bargain is for probation, whether the defendant could realistically comply with all of the conditions of probation.
Hire the Right Criminal Defense Attorney
It is important to hire a criminal defense lawyer who has trial and negotiation experience. An effective and experienced criminal defense attorney in Los Angeles can properly evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the prosecutor's case and the potential penalties the defendant would be subjected to if the case went to trial and lost. We are Stephen G. Rodriguez & Partners, and we have represented defendants facing criminal charges ranging from shoplifting to murder for 70 years combined.
We are experienced trial attorneys who are not afraid to take a case to trial – we never negotiate a plea agreement for our own convenience, and will do what it takes to get the best outcome. When we represent a client, we strive to provide accurate information, to communicate options, and to completely answer questions. We want our clients to feel informed, and to be secure with the decisions they make. Past clients constantly reaffirm our proven track record of having criminal charges dismissed or reduced.
Please contact our office to discuss the facts of your case. For a free and confidential consultation, please call our office today.