Criminal charges are often resolved without going to trial by negotiating a deal with the prosecutor or the judge.
If the deal is negotiated with the prosecutor, it is called a Plea Agreement or Plea Bargaining.
If a case is resolved with the judge, it is called an Open Plea.
What is a plea agreement?
A plea agreement (or plea bargain) is a deal that is negotiated between the prosecutor and the defendant or the defendant’s attorney to resolve a case without going to trial. During the negotiations, the defendant and his attorney may discuss with the prosecutor details about the case, the defendant and/or the victim that should be considered in arriving at a deal.
Ultimately, the defendant pleads “guilty” or “no contest” and in return, the prosecutor may reduce the charges to a lesser offense, drop certain charges, and/or recommend a lighter sentence for the alleged crime. While all plea agreements are ultimately subject to the court’s approval, it is unusual for a judge to reject an agreement reached between a prosecutor and a defendant.
What is an open plea?
Sometimes it is to a defendant’s advantage to go directly to the judge and simply plead “guilty” or “no contest” to the charges against him — without agreeing to any deal with the prosecutor.
This is called an open plea.
While judges do not have the same freedom as prosecutors to just dismiss certain charges or let a defendant plead to lesser charges, they do have the ability to set the sentence for the crimes charged. Judges may sometimes be more lenient or consider different factors in sentencing than prosecutors do and, as a result, direct negotiations with the judge and an open plea can be a potentially good option for resolving criminal charges.
What is the result of a plea bargain or open plea?
When a defendant enters into a plea bargain or enters an open plea, he gives up his right to go to trial, the right to confront witnesses, and the right to present a defense, among other things. For the defendant, the result is a conviction, but a conviction without the risk of going to trial and – presumably — with less severe and more appropriate penalties than might result from a trial conviction.