As anyone who watches police procedural dramas knows, criminal cases can be resolved in a number of different ways. Sometimes they are resolved by a criminal trial in which the prosecution and criminal defense each present their cases to the judge and jury. Other times, the case is resolved when the defendant pleads guilty to one or more of the charges filed. This blog post will provide a brief introduction to the plea negotiation process.
Plea negotiation is a very common method of resolving criminal cases in Pennsylvania. It is so popular because it provides a number of advantages to many of the parties. For defendants, it avoids the publicity of a criminal trial and it often prevents the defendant from being subject to the maximum possible penalty. Prosecutors can minimize the amount of scarce public resources dedicated to prosecuting defendants. Judges and court systems can avoid jammed court calendars and associated costs.
Either the prosecution or the defense can begin the plea negotiation process. Usually, the two parties will agree to the defendant's pleading guilty to either a less serious charge or to fewer than all of the charges filed. The court may have to agree if the plea negotiation stipulates a certain sentence. The judge is not bound to any recommendation of the prosecution, but the judge also cannot prevent the prosecution from dropping charges in exchange for a guilty plea.
Plea negotiation is basically a private process, although the victim may be entitled to be involved in some circumstances. Although plea negotiation is a common way to resolve cases, criminal defendants should remember that they always have the right to force the prosecution to prove its case in a criminal trial instead.
Source: American Bar Association, "Plea Bargaining," accessed on April 1, 2017