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Plea negotiations 101

If you have been charged with a criminal offense, your first step should be to find a good attorney to take your case. This should be done as soon as possible so negotiations on your case can begin at the earliest possible time. Your attorney can start looking not only for any cracks in your case, but also for any bargaining points that can be used to convince the prosecutor that you are worth a plea negotiation. Plea bargaining can be done at almost any point in a criminal case -- at the beginning, in hearings or even between hearings.

Settling cases out of court has been an integral part of criminal case settlements in Colorado for years. Plea agreements are not only legal per Colorado statutes, but necessary to keep the justice system running and able to handle the vast number of cases that pass through the system. Plea bargaining allows approximately 95 percent of Colorado's cases to be resolved without going to trial.

How can plea bargaining help you? A prosecutor may offer you a reduced charge or a shorter sentence if you plead guilty. This not only shortens the waiting period for you, but lessons the chance of a more serious conviction. Pleading guilty is not always desirable, especially if you feel you have a good defense for your actions and do not want a guilty conviction on your record. However, there are many different types of plea bargaining that a prosecutor might offer and a lot of considerations that are taken into account. For instance, if you have had no prior arrests, this may be favorable for a lesser charge. Prosecutors have a great deal of leeway in offering plea agreements and might settle a case by using "deferred prosecution." In deferred prosecution, the prosecutor might agree to drop all charges at the end of a given time period if you agree to stay out of trouble and fulfill other conditions of the bargain, such as paying restitution, doing community service or attending classes or counseling.

Plea bargaining is not an automatic right to all defendants and is at the discretion of the prosecutor. Also, once a defense attorney and prosecutor come to an agreement, the deal still must be submitted to and approved by the judge.

Source: Boulder County Bar Association, "Bar Media Manual," accessed Dec. 02, 2015

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