What is a Plea Bargain?
If you are facing criminal charges in North Carolina, you may be concerned about what comes next. Being convicted of a crime can have serious short-term and long-term consequences, including jail time, heavy fines, and implications for your housing and employment prospects. However, these are the result of a conviction; not a charge. A lot can happen between the time you are charged with a crime and when you are convicted. In fact, you have the most power to positively impact or alter the outcome of your case right after you are charged. Although it may feel like your life is over, a charge is really the beginning of the process; not the end. Nothing is set in stone at the time you are charged. Even the charges can be altered. This can occur through a plea bargain offered by the prosecution.
Understanding Plea Bargains
A plea bargain is essentially a bargain between the prosecution and the defendant. Generally, in exchange for pleading guilty or no contest to the charges the defendant will receive some benefit. These benefits can include reducing the charges you are facing to a lesser offense. For instance, a traffic ticket can be reduced to an equipment violation, which is a non-moving offense that will not affect your insurance premiums or license points. However, charge reduction is not limited to minor cases like this. In fact, in many cases a felony will be reduced to a misdemeanor as part of a plea bargain. It is important to understand that by pleading guilty or no contest, the defendant waives their right to a bench or jury trial. In that sense, this plea essentially skips the entire criminal process and cuts to the end. The defendant will not get the opportunity to have their case heard or argue for their innocence, but in exchange, they will likely receive a lesser sentence or other benefits, such as mitigating penalties. The difference between pleading no contest and guilty, is that by pleading guilty you are admitting guilt. By pleading no contest, the defendant is not admitting guilt or innocence, but is simply electing not to challenge the charges.
Benefits of Accepting a Plea Bargain
Plea bargains of this nature are not at all uncommon. In fact, you may be surprised to learn that approximately 95% of criminal cases in North Carolina are resolved through plea bargains. That also means that 95% of criminal convictions in North Carolina are made without a trial by jury. It is critical to ensure that the benefits offered by the plea bargain outweigh the cost of sacrificing your right to a trial. In addition to the benefits cited above, such as reduced charges, there are other advantages that a plea bargain can offer. For instance, in some cases a plea bargain may waive jail time in lieu of probation. A plea bargain can also save you the potentially high cost of a trial if the odds of succeeding in front of a jury are high risk. The security of being able to control the outcome is also a real benefit to many.
Talk to a North Carolina Criminal Defense Lawyer
If you are facing criminal charges in North Carolina, the best thing you can do is talk to an experienced criminal defense attorney. Contact the criminal defense team at Coastal South Law today and schedule a consultation to find out how they can help ensure the best possible outcome in your case.