Hollywood courtroom dramas would have you believe that criminal cases always end with the judge pronouncing a verdict. In reality, the vast majority of cases are actually resolved through plea bargaining, also referred to as making a plea deal or plea agreement. In this article, our Philadelphia criminal defense attorneys will explain some basic rules about how plea bargaining works in Pennsylvania.
We weren’t exaggerating when we said that the vast majority of criminal cases are resolved by making a plea deal. According to a 2011 report by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, "While there are no exact estimates of the proportion of cases that are resolved through plea bargaining, scholars estimate that about 90 to 95% of both federal and state court cases are resolved through this process." This aligns with another figure noted by the report: among 75,573 federal district court cases in 2003, roughly 95% (about 71,795 cases) concluded with a guilty plea.
A plea bargain is a deal between the defense and the prosecution in which the defendant agrees to plead guilty to a given offense in exchange for concessions from the prosecutor. The defendant might agree to plead guilty to the original offense with which he or she was charged, or to a lesser offense than the original charge, which would result in the defendant receiving lighter penalties. For instance, the Pennsylvania penalties for a first degree misdemeanor can reach up to $10,000 in fines and a five-year sentence, whereas the penalties for a second degree misdemeanor are limited to $5,000 in fines and a two-year sentence at maximum.
There are several different kinds of plea bargaining, described below:
The regulations which govern plea deals in Pennsylvania are addressed by 234 Pa. Code Rule 590 (Pleas and Plea Agreements). Here are a few important provisions of Rule 590 which defendants and their loved ones should know about:
It’s important to note that the judge is not obligated to accept a given plea deal, and, if he or she feels the deal’s terms are too lenient, may decide to reject the reduced sentence being proposed by the prosecutor. However, it is more common for plea deals to be accepted. Once an agreement has been accepted by the judge, its terms may not be modified unless the defendant fails to comply with the conditions of the agreement, such as failing to perform mandatory community service.
If someone you love was arrested in Philadelphia, the criminal lawyers of Krasner & Long can help. We have years of experience defending clients against a wide range of misdemeanor and felony charges in Pennsylvania, including sex crimes, drug crimes, and federal crimes. We will protect your loved one’s legal rights while vigorously fighting the charges on their behalf. To talk about your legal matter in a free, completely private case evaluation, call our law offices at (215) 882-9752 today.