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California Plea Bargains: Two Sides to This Coin


If you’ve ever been involved as a suspect in the California criminal justice system, you might be familiar with what a plea bargain is and seeks to accomplish.

Even if you haven’t, though, there is certainly a strong likelihood that you are at least somewhat familiar with the contours of such an agreement. Virtually every crime-based drama that has ever been a television fixture has featured vignettes of prosecutors and defense attorneys negotiating a plea bargain and its terms.

The upsides of negotiated pleas are clear enough and often stated by proponents. One commonly cited positive, which we note on a page of our criminal law website at The Law Offices of John W. Noonan discussing the ramifications of plea bargains, is that they “save time and money, preventing the legal system from collapsing.” Another is that they can enable individuals charged with certain offenses receive mitigated sentences that are preferable to outcomes that would likely result from a trial.

Is there a potential downside, though?

Legions of criminal law commentators argue that there most assuredly is, and that it plays out in more than an uncommon manner. Our site notes one centrally troubling point with a negotiated plea, namely, that in some instances it “prevents innocent people from having their case heard in court.” A criminal suspect, even if innocent, might feel unduly pressured by a prosecutor who is threatening a materially adverse outcome if a plea is rejected and a matter is taken to court.

Then, too, there is this notable point about plea bargains, which runs counter to the stated purpose of the American criminal justice system: They circumvent a criminal process underlain by the principle that an individual accused of crime is presumed innocent and that a prosecutor seeking to establish otherwise must offer evidence that proves guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

A plea bargain is something that a criminal suspect must obviously think most carefully about. A seasoned criminal defense attorney can help him or her do that.