Nolo's Plain-English Law Dictionary

Plea Bargain

A negotiation between the defense, prosecution, and the judge that settles a criminal case short of trial. The defendant typically pleads guilty to a lesser crime or fewer charges than originally charged, in exchange for a guaranteed sentence that is shorter than what the defendant would face if convicted at trial. The prosecution gets the certainty of a conviction and a known sentence; the defendant avoids the risk of a higher sentence; and the judge gets to move on to other cases.
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