If I Reject a Plea Bargain and Lose at Trial, Will I Get a Harsher Sentence than the One Offered?

By , Attorney · Santa Clara University School of Law


If I turn down a plea offer and get convicted at trial, will the prosecutor ask the judge to impose more time than he specified in the plea offer?


When prosecutors offer a plea bargain to a defendant, they have presumably studied the case and the evidence, spoken with witnesses and victims, and decided on a fair and appropriate sentence. But defendants often reject bargains, and take their chances at trial. Yes, there is a risk that the prosecutor may end up recommending a harsher sentence than the one proposed as part of the plea bargain. Or, even if the recommendation remains the same, the judge may not follow it.

In some cases, a prosecutor's recommendation for more jail time than was originally offered will seem like a punishment for going to trial. In these cases, little is learned at trial that wasn't known when the plea was offered. For example, witnesses may testify just as they were expected to do, based on police reports and investigators' reports; and physical evidence may be admitted just as planned. Particularly when the defendant offers no defense, a trial might just be an enactment of what the lawyers knew all along. In these situations, there's little to defend a prosecutor's demand for a harsher sentence post-trial.

However, some trials amplify what's known about the crime and the defendant, which may lead the prosecutor to reconsider the appropriateness of the sentence tied to his original offer.

It's possible that the prosecution's changed recommendation was meant to punish the defendant for demanding a trial. But it's also possible that the evidence at trial went beyond what the prosecutor thought he could prove at the time he offered the bargain. For example, in the time between the offer and trial, new evidence may have come to light, and additional witnesses found.

Judges are generally free to impose the sentence they feel is just, even when there's a plea bargain. Typically, the prosecutor will follow the specifics of the offer, and ask for no more; and in some situations, judges are consulted before the plea is made official.


Talk to a Defense attorney
We've helped 95 clients find attorneys today.
There was a problem with the submission. Please refresh the page and try again
Full Name is required
Email is required
Please enter a valid Email
Phone Number is required
Please enter a valid Phone Number
Zip Code is required
Please add a valid Zip Code
Please enter a valid Case Description
Description is required

How It Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you