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Is your plea bargain really that much of a bargain?

Most people are familiar with the idea of a plea bargain: they're essentially a deal between the prosecution and the defense that resolves a criminal case before it goes to trial. But is this kind of deal really a bargain for the defendant?

Maybe not.

If you're the defendant and there's strong evidence against you, your attorney might recommend that you approach the prosecution about a deal in exchange for information that you have against other people -- especially if you have a very minor role in the crime. For example, if you have done some small drug deals, the prosecutor might be far more interested in knowing about your connections to a larger drug manufacturing or trafficking ring than he or she is in putting you in jail.

However, if the prosecution offers you a plea, you should always stop to question the prosecution's motive. From the prosecution's point of view, there are some fantastic benefits to a plea bargain:

-- Your conviction is guaranteed, which means that the prosecutor gets to chalk it up to a "win" on his or her record. If the prosecution's case against you is weak, he or she may offer a plea so that there's no risk that he or she will lose the case.

-- You give up your right to a trial by jury. That means that the state doesn't have the expense of paying for your trial, including things like your defense if you're relying on a public defender to help you.

-- You give up your right to an appeal. If you later decide that your sentence is somehow unfair or you have regrets about accepting the plea, you have already given up most of your appeal rights.

Plea deals aren't necessarily all bad -- but any defendant should be cautious about a prosecutor that seems willing to file the most serious charges he or she can and then suddenly seems willing to accept a much-reduced plea. That might be a signal that the prosecutor is over-charging in order to frighten you into what seems like a great bargain when it's not. Before you agree to a plea deal, it's wise to speak with your own defense attorney and get his or her take on the situation or see if an even better deal can be negotiated.

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