What are the different kinds of plea bargaining?

Learn about charge bargaining, count bargaining, sentence bargaining, and fact bargaining.

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.

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