There are many ways to strike a deal. Courts use the following terms to describe different forms of plea bargaining:
- Charge bargaining. The defendant
pleads to a crime that’s less serious than the original charge, or than
the most serious of the charges. Example: The prosecution charges Andrew with burglary, but he pleads guilty to
trespassing and the prosecution dismisses the burglary charge.
- Count bargaining. Many consider
count bargaining to fall under charge bargaining. Here, the defendant pleads to only
one or more of the original charges, and the prosecution drops the rest. Example: The
prosecution charges Joey with both robbery and simple assault. The parties
agree that Joey will plead to the assault charge, and that the prosecution will
dismiss the robbery charge.
- Sentence bargaining. The defendant
takes a guilty or no contest plea after the sides agree what sentence the prosecution will recommend. Example: Max agrees to plead to the charge of misdemeanor resisting
arrest, and the prosecution agrees to recommend that the judge not sentence him
to jail time.
- Fact bargaining. The defendant
pleads in exchange for the prosecutor’s stipulation that certain facts led to
the conviction. The omitted facts would have increased the sentence because of sentencing guidelines. Example: The
government files an indictment against Cole for drug trafficking. Federal
agents caught him with over five kilograms of cocaine. Five kilograms triggers
a sentence involving many years in prison, so Cole agrees to plead guilty to
the offense in exchange for the prosecution’s stipulation that he possessed
less than five kilograms.
For further discussion of the kinds of plea bargains—and the
process by which judges decide whether to accept or reject them—see How
Judges Accept and Reject Plea Deals.