What Are the Different Kinds of Plea Bargaining?

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

By , Attorney · UC Law San Francisco

The term "plea bargain" refers to an agreement between the prosecution and the defense in a criminal case. A plea bargain is basically a contract between the sides intended to allow:

  • the defendant to receive reduced punishment and avoid the risks and stress of trial, and
  • the prosecution to guarantee the result of the case and preserve resources that would have gone toward a trial.

Read on about terms courts use 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.

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.

Sentence Bargaining

The defendant takes a guilty or "no contest" plea after the sides agree what sentence the prosecution will recommend.

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.

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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