What is a plea bargain?
Victims of crime have important rights at every stage of the criminal justice process, including when a plea agreement is being considered.
If you are a victim of a crime and you want the judge to consider the impact that the crime has had on your life before a plea agreement (and potential sentence) is discussed, you must provide that information to your Victim Advocate or the Deputy District Attorney before the pretrial conference.
What is a plea agreement?
A plea agreement, also known as a pretrial resolution or plea bargain, is the resolution of a criminal case before trial. Most criminal cases are resolved by way of a plea agreement. Rather than going to trial, a defendant may choose to plead guilty or no contest to one or more charges as identified by the Deputy District Attorney (DDA) and Judge in exchange for a certain sentence. Plea agreements are valuable to save all parties the time and cost of a trial and the uncertainty of a jury verdict.
When does a plea bargain usually happen?
Most commonly, a plea agreement will be discussed relatively early in the court process, at the Pretrial Conference or Superior Court Review hearing.
How does a plea bargain happen?
At the Pretrial Conference or Superior Court Review, the judge will meet with the Deputy District Attorney and Defense Attorney in his/her chambers. The parties will discuss the case and the DDA will advise the defense which charges the defendant must plead to in order to resolve the case. This may be all or some of the charged offenses or a lesser offense, depending on a variety of circumstances including issues as to proof. The defense will present arguments as to why a lesser offense is appropriate, as well as any mitigating information for the judge to consider. The judge will then indicate to the parties what the sentence will be, and the Defense Attorney will discuss the plea agreement with the defendant.
If the defendant chooses to plead guilty or no contest, the guilt phase of the case will end.
In most misdemeanors and some felony cases, the defendant will be sentenced immediately.
In some felony cases, the judge will direct the Probation Department to prepare a Presentence Report and set a separate hearing date for imposition of sentence.
If the defendant chooses not to plead guilty or no contest, the case will move forward to the next step of the process.
Does a plea bargain expire?
If a defendant does not plead guilty or no contest at the Pretrial Conference or Superior Court Review, the plea bargain may or may not expire. During the discussion about case resolution, both the Deputy District Attorney and the Judge can set an expiration date for the offer. This is done to encourage an early disposition of the case and avoid the need to subpoena witnesses for trial.
Who decides what the sentence will be?
In every criminal case the judge will review the case, consider aggravating and mitigating factors and then advise the defense attorney and the Deputy District Attorney what the sentence will be if the defendant pleads to charges asked for by the Deputy District Attorney.
Who can participate in a pretrial conference?
The only parties who are present at a pretrial conference are the Deputy District Attorney, Defense Attorney and the Judge. However, the victim has an opportunity to have a voice at the hearing by providing important insight and information about the impact of the crime. To learn more about victim impact statements, please contact a Victim Advocate.