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Plea Bargains in Illinois

Posted on in Criminal Law

plea bargains, McHenry County criminal defense attorneyAmericans have enshrined the notion of a trial as important to the fairness of the criminal justice system, and the right to a trial by jury even appears in the Bill of Rights. Yet, an overwhelming majority of criminal cases do not end in a trial. In fact, statistics compiled by the U.S. Department of Justice reveal that only between five and 10 percent of criminal cases actually go to trial. The rest end in a plea bargain.

Plea bargains are an agreement between the prosecution and the defense that the defendant will plead guilty, usually in exchange for lesser charges or a shorter sentence. In some sense, the plea bargain is the criminal version of a settlement in civil trials. The two sides negotiate to come to an agreement.

Why Plea Bargains Happen

Plea bargains happen for many different reasons. Sometimes both sides have a good picture of the strengths of their cases, and the defense realizes that a plea bargain is in their best interests. However, there has been a change to the way law works over the past 30 years that has encouraged the use of plea bargains.

During that time, mandatory minimum sentences became more common for certain crimes. These mandatory minimums give prosecutors much more control over a defendant's future sentence because it is the prosecutor who decides what charges to bring. This provides extra negotiating leverage because they can choose to charge more or less serious crimes with more or less serious sentences in exchange for extracting a guilty plea. In some instances, prosecutors can even extract these pleas from innocent defendants using their ability to charge incredibly severe sentences because of the inherent unpredictability of trials.

How Plea Bargains Work

Mechanically, plea bargains are an informal process that occurs as a set of negotiations between the prosecution and the defendant. The judge does not get involved until the very end.

During the negotiation, the prosecution offers some sort of less strenuous sentence in exchange for the defendant's guilty plea. The prosecution can do this through two ways. First, they can decrease the charges against the plaintiff. This tends to come with a less serious potential sentence, and is completely within the prosecutor's control. Second, the prosecutor can recommend certain sentences to the judge. Importantly, the judge is not obliged to listen to those recommendations. If the judge thinks that the recommended sentence is not harsh enough, he or she can impose a more serious penalty after the defendant has already pleaded guilty.

The decision to take a plea bargain or not rests in the hands of the defendant. However, they are allowed to discuss their options and the strength of their case with their defense attorney. If you have been charged with a crime and want to learn more about your options, contact a McHenry County criminal defense attorney today.

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