Your Guide to Plea Bargains in Illinois
Enshrined in the Constitution of the United States is the right to trial by jury. However, many criminal justice matters in this country never actually go before a jury. Instead, they terminate in a plea bargain. The state of Illinois is no exception to this.
It helps to understand what a plea bargain is and how it works in criminal justice cases. Read on to find out more.
A Plea Bargain: What Is It?
A plea bargain, sometimes also referred to as a plea deal or plea agreement is an arrangement between the defendant and prosecutor. In this agreement, the person accused of the crime agrees to plead guilty to charges against them. In exchange, they get concessions from prosecutors, such as:
- Dropping of the most serious charges
- Every charge but the most serious dropped
- Being allowed to plead guilty to a lesser charge
- No sentence enhancements included
- Recommendation of a lesser sentence or alternative sentencing
- Dropping any charge that has a mandatory minimum sentence
A plea bargain is a written agreement between the defendant and the prosecution. Defendants are not required to take it, nor are they guaranteed to be offered a plea deal in every situation.
It’s crucial to understand that pleading guilty to criminal charges is not a plea deal. It is the obligation of the defendant to plead guilty as a condition of the bargain, but that bargain must be signed before the guilty plea.
The judge may not accept a plea bargain agreement between the defendant and prosecutors. In that case, the plea bargain is simply voided. Both parties must either come to an agreement or move on to the trial – and, if the verdict is guilty, sentencing.
Why You Would Accept a Plea Bargain
In some instances, accepting a plea bargain is a good idea. Often, it is a good deal for defendants who have a pretty overwhelming case against them or don’t have a good defense against the charges they’re facing.
Consider these factors to help you decide if a plea deal is the right choice:
- The likely result of a trial
- If you’re actually guilty of the crime for which you’ve been accused
- If the plea agreement can keep you out of prison
- If the time you would spend in prison is reduced in the plea deal
- The consequences of a criminal conviction for the rest of your life
Why a Plea Deal May Be Rejected
Of course, sometimes it may be in your best interest to refuse a plea deal. It’s important to remember that in court, prosecutors have a high bar to meet when it comes to proving a case. They must prove beyond a reasonable doubt to a judge or jury that you are guilty.
Consult with your lawyer when offered a plea deal. They can often advise you as to whether or not it’s the best call.
Here are some reasons plea deals may be rejected:
- Innocence on behalf of the defendant – if you didn’t commit the crime, you likely don’t want to plead guilty to it
- There is exonerating evidence pointing to the fact that the crime was not committed by the defendant
- The plea deal doesn’t reduce the amount of prison time faced
- Your defense attorney believes the prosecutors may offer a better deal later
The Process of a Plea Bargain
It’s vital to understand how the plea bargaining process works. You may think that it must be done before a case goes to trial, but the truth is that a plea bargain can be introduced at any point before a guilty verdict. Of course, in most cases, the entire point of a plea deal is to keep the case from going to court. Most take place very early in the criminal justice process.
How an Attorney Can Help
A defense attorney plays a huge role in a plea bargain. An experienced attorney will ensure the rights of the defendant are protected and can advise as to whether or not accepting a plea bargain is in your best interest. Plus, they can counsel you about the pros and cons of accepting a deal as well as help you to understand what consequences can be faced by taking your case to trial. Finally, they negotiate on your behalf with the prosecution as well to ensure your case has the best possible outcome.
Plea bargains are quite common, but that doesn’t mean you have to take one if it’s offered to you. Make sure you understand what is being offered and what you must exchange for it.
About the Author:
Andrew M. Weisberg is a former felony prosecutor who now serves as a defense attorney in the greater Chicago area. He has extensive experience in handling all types of criminal cases, from sex offenses and domestic violence to retail theft-related crimes, murder, and drug crimes.