Police officer interrogating suspect with handcuffs. How do plea bargains work.

How Do Plea Bargains Work?

You might ask yourself, “how do plea bargains work?” if you are considering settling your criminal case by skipping the trial phase. A plea bargain in Minneapolis, MN, happens when a criminal defendant agrees to plead guilty or no contest instead of having the prosecution prove his or her guilt at trial. The prosecution agrees to reduce the charges, recommend less harsh penalties, or drop the charges altogether in exchange for a guilty plea.

Police officer interrogating suspect with handcuffs. How do plea bargains work.

A lawyer who knows criminal law and has resolved many criminal cases over the years can review your case, analyze its evidence, and explain the pros and cons of plea bargaining. The lawyer can help you decide whether to take a plea deal or defend yourself at trial.

What Is a Plea Bargain?

A plea bargain is a negotiated deal between a prosecutor and a criminal defendant to resolve a criminal case under specific conditions. This agreement usually involves the defendant agreeing to confess to breaking the law in court in exchange for concessions by the prosecution. A plea bargain may impact the following areas:

  • Sentence duration: it may focus on reducing the sentence length.
  • Charge modification: many plea deals focus on reducing the charges. A robbery with violence may, for instance, get reduced to robbery. A murder charge may become manslaughter.
  • Fewer Counts: a plea deal may lead to the dismissal of some charges.
  • Stayed sentences: a plea bargain may result in three different types of stayed sentences. A stay of adjudication involves satisfying court-ordered terms or conditions in exchange for avoiding a conviction in your record. A stay of imposition allows you to avoid jail time, provided you adhere to court-ordered conditions. A stay of execution involves staying your sentence provided you observe court-ordered conditions. The crime, however, stays on your record even if you serve the probationary period successfully.

Courts consider plea deals as legally binding contracts between prosecution and defense. As such, you may request relief from a judge if the prosecutor backs down from the plea agreement. The judge may order the prosecutor to comply with the original plea agreement or allow you to withdraw a guilty plea. Likewise, prosecutors will no longer have a legal obligation to comply with the original plea deal if you violate its conditions.

Plea deals often require defendants to enter a guilty plea and admit they committed a crime. However, they sometimes involve the defendant pleading no contest –accepting the penalties without a guilty admission. That is the difference between pleading no contest vs. guilty in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

What Are the Benefits of Plea Bargains?

Avoiding a Lengthy Jail Sentence or Getting Released From Jail

The prosecution team may be willing to recommend a sentence that does not involve jail time if you agree to plead guilty. You may also get released from jail shortly after entering a guilty or no-contest plea. You may, however, need to follow conditions for a specified duration while out of jail.

Saves Time and Money

Preparing and presenting a case at trial is a time-consuming and costly endeavor. Resolving the criminal case by negotiating with the prosecution takes less time and money. Your lawyer will recommend a negotiated settlement if the chances of obtaining a not-guilty verdict at trial are low.

Quick Resolution of a Criminal Case

A case may take months or even years before reaching trial. The trial proceeding itself is a scary and stressful experience for defendants. They have to listen to prosecutors presenting a case against them in court, witnesses testifying against them, and wait for the proceedings to conclude to know their fate. Accepting a plea deal resolves a criminal case immediately, saving you from the time-consuming and stressful trial proceeding.

Lowering the Number or Severity of Offenses on Your Record

You may get lower charges or less severe offense on your record if your case settles through a plea agreement than if it ends at trial. This can prove helpful if you get convicted for a similar or related offense in the future.

Example: A second DUI conviction in Minnesota within ten years almost always results in jail time. So, if your first DUI offense got reduced to reckless driving, you may avoid compulsory jail time for your second DUI.

Limits Publicity

You may prefer a plea deal over a trial to avoid publicity and further deterioration of your reputation. This is especially true if you are a prominent person, public official, or an individual who relies on his or her reputation to make ends meet. You may also accept a plea deal to avoid further humiliation of your family.

What Are the Types of Plea Bargain in Minnesota?

The types of plea bargain in Minnesota include:

Charge Bargains

Charge bargains are the common type of plea deals in Minnesota. This type of bargain involves the defendant entering a guilty plea to a less serious offense in exchange for withdrawing a more serious charge. For instance, you may plead guilty to a reckless driving charge rather than facing a driving while impaired (DWI) charge at trial.

The penalties for a reckless driving offense are less harsh than those of a DWI. The hidden consequences of having a reckless driving conviction on your record are also less serious than those of a DWI conviction.

Sentence Bargains

These forms of plea bargains are less common in Minnesota. Also, several restrictions apply to the deals. They involve the defendant agreeing to plead guilty in exchange for the prosecution recommending a lighter sentence.

Be sure to inform your lawyer what you think will work for you. Perhaps you want to avoid jail time, retain your driver’s license, or be put on probation. Your lawyer will better advocate for you when he or she understands what exactly you want.

The negotiated sentence between your lawyer and the prosecutor is not final. A judge must review the sentence and accept or deny it.

Fact Bargains

Fact bargains are the least common in the state. They involve the defendant pleading guilty to a set of facts to have the rest of the facts dropped from the case. This form of plea deal often results in a less harsh sentence.

Minnesota has other special forms of plea bargains that may not fit into any of the three above categories. For instance, first-time offenders might be eligible for special programs provided by local courts.

These programs are known as pretrial diversion. They involve the defendant admitting to violating a law and completing a program, such as court-ordered alcohol treatment or community service. The charges get dismissed after the defendant completes the program successfully.

What Is the Process of Negotiating a Plea Bargain?

Plea deal negotiations can start at any time in the life of a criminal case. Negotiations can start immediately after the police have arrested you or before the prosecution has filed formal charges against you. They can begin after the jury starts deliberating on its ruling. They can also start after conviction, especially if you have strong grounds for appeal.

The prosecutor, the defendant, or the defendant’s lawyer are eligible to initiate plea negotiations. These negotiations must be started in writing and specify the date, time, and venue of the meeting. The plea bargain initiation letter must name parties to attend the meeting and ask them to carry any relevant documents to the negotiations. The letter must also include a confidentiality clause.

Plea agreement negotiations happen in misdemeanor and felony criminal cases. The outcome of the negotiations depends on the charges you are facing and previous convictions, if any. You may avoid jail time by pleading guilty if you are a first-time offender charged with a misdemeanor. You may have to serve a jail sentence if you are a repeat offender facing a felony charge.

A judge must examine and accept the agreement before it becomes official. The judge has the discretion to approve or reject a plea agreement. The prosecution team must submit all the agreement conditions to the judge.

The judge will assess the type of the charges, any prior convictions on your record, and the circumstances of the offense in question. He or she will also consider the public interest, like whether the recommended sentence guarantees safety in the community.

Upon review, the judge may reject or approve the agreement. The judge must state a reason on record if he or she rejects a plea deal.

In some cases, a judge may approve only a few conditions of the deal, while denying the rest. The judge may also shelve the decision until he or she has examined the pre-sentence report and gathered sufficient information to make an informed decision.

What Is the Role of Your Defense Attorney in Plea Negotiations?

You are more likely to get a favorable outcome from a plea negotiation if you hire a defense attorney than if you decide to represent yourself. Your defense attorney will secure a better plea deal for you by doing the following:

Explaining the Full Implications of Pleading Guilty

Many criminal defendants consider fines, jail sentences, and probationary conditions when reviewing plea offers. They rarely pay attention to the hidden consequences of a guilty plea, such as loss of professional license, driver’s license suspension or revocation, and ineligibility for educational loans or grants.

A seasoned criminal defense lawyer will know the full ramifications a conviction of the charges you are facing may carry. The lawyer will skillfully negotiate for reduced charges or lesser sentences to eliminate or lower hidden ramifications a guilty plea for the original offense may carry.

Pointing Out Weaknesses in the Prosecution’s Case

Your defense lawyer can evaluate your case, analyze the evidence against you, and identify weaknesses. The lawyer will then document the weaknesses and use them to push the prosecution to make concessions in your best interest.

Identifying Legal Arguments That Work for Different Local Prosecutors

No two prosecutors are the same. Each has unique preferences and may react to the variables of a plea negotiation differently. Some may be willing to enter a plea deal, allowing the defendant to retain employment and remain a productive citizen. Others may be ready to give young first-time offenders a second chance at their lives. Another group of prosecutors may strongly feel that harsh penalties are necessary to compel the offender to abandon crime and become an upstanding citizen.

An experienced lawyer knows local prosecutors and which variables are important to each prosecutor. The lawyer will leverage this knowledge to devise a legal argument that will guarantee a better deal from negotiations.

Helping You Develop Realistic Expectations

You might expect an unrealistic outcome from a plea bargain due to a lack of legal knowledge or experience. You may, for instance, expect the prosecution to drop your charges or recommend a less serious sentence that does not include jail time. Those outcomes are sometimes unrealistic.

Multiple factors and variables will impact the nature of a plea agreement you will enter with the prosecution. These factors and variables include the charges you are facing, criminal history, available evidence, and the prosecution’s preference.

Your lawyer can discuss the type of plea bargains prosecutors have offered in cases like yours. He or she can accurately predict the outcome of your negotiation with the prosecution by considering all relevant factors and variables. All these steps are crucial in helping you develop realistic expectations and avoid disappointments in the future.

Self-representing criminal defendants often make costly blunders in taking a plea deal too early without negotiating with the prosecution properly or rejecting a plea deal that might have helped them stay out of jail. Your best bet at avoiding these costly mistakes and getting a plea agreement for your unique legal situation is to work with a knowledgeable defense lawyer

Max Keller has won countless jury trial cases involving misdemeanors and felonies, sex crimes, and DWI’s. He is a member of the Minnesota Society for Criminal Justice, which only allows the top 50 criminal defense attorneys in the state as members. Max is a frequent speaker at CLE’s and is often asked for advice by other defense attorneys across Minnesota.

Years of Experience: Approx. 20 years
Minnesota Registration Status: Active
Bar & Court Admissions: State of Minnesota Minnesota State Court Minnesota Federal Court 8th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals State of Maryland

What to Do If You Have Been Charged with a Criminal Offense

The criminal defense process in Minnesota constitutes several steps, starting with investigations and culminating with appeals. This process can be long and exhausting. An arrest alone can leave you scared, confused, and overwhelmed with emotions. Making logical decisions in this state can be difficult, especially if it is your first time interacting with the criminal justice system.
The first thing to do after you have been accused of a sex crime in Minneapolis, MN, is to familiarize yourself with the seriousness of the situation. The next thing is to seek legal guidance from a lawyer who has established a practice by successfully defending people facing sex crime accusations. You should also collect and preserve all proof that can help support your defense strategy.
One of the questions people facing a criminal charge ask is: How long does a criminal case take? The timeline of your criminal case in Minnesota will depend on the nature and severity of the alleged crime, the speed of the criminal justice system, the duration of the trial, and whether an appeal will be necessary. Delays at any stage of the criminal justice process may impact how long your criminal case will last. Generally, however, misdemeanor cases may resolve within weeks or months, while felony cases may linger in courts for up to a year.