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Understanding Plea Bargaining

The truth about criminal prosecutions is that many of them never even go to trial in the first place. Before a prosecution reaches the trial stage, a lot of cases are settled out of a Tennessee court with a plea deal. Ultimately, the choice to pursue a plea bargain is up to a defendant. Here's a look at how plea bargaining works and why both defendants and prosecutors pursue it.

The Legal Dictionary explains plea bargaining as a negotiation that takes place between two sides, a defendant and his or her legal representation on one side, and the prosecution on the other side. The defendant will agree to plead guilty or "no contest" to a select charge. In exchange, the prosecution will dismiss the other charges or reduce the severity of the charges being brought. Sometimes the prosecutor will recommend to a court that the defendant be given leniency in exchange for a guilty plea.

According to the American Bar Association, defendants find plea bargaining attractive for a number of reasons. A trial defense can take a lot of time out of a defendant's life, and may also cost a substantial amount of money, particularly if the trial drags on for too long. Trials also can be a humiliating experience for the defendant and may draw unwanted publicity. Additionally, trials are unpredictable. There is no way to tell if the jury will hand down a harsher punishment than the defendant expects.

In addition to defendants, prosecutors and courts also find plea bargaining practical for a number of reasons. Prosecutors do not have to go through the time and effort to prove their case in a court proceeding that could last for a lengthy period. It also relieves courts from a stuffed docket. A case that is resolved by a plea deal is one less trial for a court to handle.

However, plea bargains have to be mutually agreed upon by both the prosecution and the defendant. Additionally, many plea bargains are subject to the approval of the court. A plea deal may be presented to a judge, but the judge can still decide to reject the plea bargain. Still, courts do not always hold a veto over plea bargains, as in some cases prosecutors may drop charges without judicial approval.