In a criminal case, a plea bargain is struck when a defendant agrees to plead guilty to one or more crimes. In return, prosecutors agree to provide the defendant with some type of consideration with regard to sentencing or other elements of the case. While defendants naturally have a goal to be declared innocent of charges, plea bargaining is an essential legal tool when a criminal defense seems unlikely to result in a complete declaration of innocence.
Plea bargaining actually includes several types of bargaining. First, defendants can bargain with regard to charges. Most often, this tactic is used to reduce the charges in a case so that consequences are lessened upon conviction or a felony charge is converted to a misdemeanor. Prosecutors tend to require a defendant plead guilty to a lesser charge in return for having other charges dismissed. The benefit to the defendant is that less jail time is served. In some cases, no jail time is served at all, as lesser offenses may only require probation or community service, depending on the location, the state and the court.
Another thing defendants can bargain for is sentencing. In return for a plea, prosecutors might be willing to guarantee a minimum sentence. It’s important to note that both federal and state law do require certain sentences for certain crimes, and prosecutors can’t change those requirements.
A third type of bargaining is known as fact bargaining. This is used when defendants want to keep certain information from being presented in court for strategic or reputation purposes. The bargaining usually involves a defendant stipulating that one or more facts is true — taking away the burden on the prosecution to prove those facts — in exchange for the prosecutor agreeing not to include other facts in the case.
Source: FindLaw, “Plea Bargaining: Areas of Negotiation,” accessed July 10, 2015