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If you are reading this, you must want to learn more or all you can about plea bargains and court trials. In this piece, we have thoroughly considered things you need to know about these two terms and provide you with the information you need to make the right choice for you. So, Is A Criminal Plea Bargain Or Trial The Best?


What is A Criminal Plea Bargain?


Popularly known as a plea agreement or plea deal, plea bargains are more common than not in many criminal cases. A plea bargain is made between a prosecutor and defendant in a criminal case where the suspect pleads guilty or nolo contendere to a charge in return for a concession made by the prosecutor.


This means that, before trial, the defendant would either plead guilty to the original charge or guilty to one of the charges (charge bargaining) for a more lenient sentence (sentence bargaining) or the other charges being dismissed (count bargaining). Both parties in a criminal case, the plaintiff and defendant, often opt for a plea bargain to prevent a lengthy court case disposition. For criminal defendants, a plea bargain may also allow them to avoid a serious conviction at trial. On the other hand, defense attorneys may advise their clients to settle for a plea bargain where they claim that it will defend their client's interests and maintain a good relationship with the prosecutor.


Advantages of Plea Bargains


By choosing a plea bargain, defendants may enjoy several benefits, some of which include:


•     Lighter/reduced sentences or charges.

•     Faster court settlements and case closings.

•     A record may show that the offenses are not as severe.


Disadvantages of Plea Bargains


Plea Bargains also come with their disadvantages, some of which include:


•     They are non-binding on the court; the court can choose to accept or refuse the settlement.

•     If the case does proceed to trial, the defendant may or may not leave with a criminal record.

•     There is a possibility that the defendant’s decision to settle for a plea bargain might have been coerced.

•     Guilt is automatically established.

•     Appeals may be impossible.

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What is A Criminal Trial?


A criminal trial, on the other hand and simply put, is a court case set to resolve disputes brought by the government against a charged suspect. In many law systems, the defendant (indicted suspect) is entitled to a trial guided by the rules of criminal procedure and held in front of a jury. A defendant’s innocence or guilt is not yet established until a criminal trial is complete.


While criminal procedure differs across jurisdictions, it often occurs either as an inquisitorial or adversarial criminal procedure. The criminal procedure begins with a formal criminal charge with the suspect either being free on bail or incarcerated. The procedure also ends with the conviction or acquittal of the defendant.  A jury or judge may decide a defendant’s fate at the conclusion of the trial.


Research conducted by Pew Research Center showed that in the United States in 2018, only a mere 2% of trial cases went to trial. The other 90% pleaded guilty to the charge made against them, while the other 8% had their cases dismissed.


Advantages of Criminal Trials


Criminal trials in front of a jury come with several benefits, including:


•     An open system that is supposed to serve justice.

•     Decisions of the jury are not supposed to be influenced by public pressure.

•     Justice is supposed to be served based on fairness.


Disadvantages of Criminal Trials


Asides from the benefits of criminal trials, it also comes with their disadvantages which include:


•     The jury may be bribed to influence their judgment.

•     The jury room’s secrecy does not give room for questionable outcomes as to how they reached their judgment, leaving no room for appeal.

•     There is no right to a multi-racial jury; hence radical views/bias may influence their decisions.

•     Judgments could be made based on hearsay, undisclosed personal bias, or politics.


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The History Of Plea Bargains And Criminal Trials


Plea bargains in the U.S. can be traced back to the 1800s, through the early 20th century, and fully accepted around the 1690s, particularly during the 1692 Salem witch trials. Accused witches were urged to testify against others and pleading guilty saved quite a lot of them from execution.


Before the 1960s, plea bargains were a thing in Boston. In the 1830s, public ordinance violators were given fewer sentences for pleading guilty. Plea bargains had spread to felony courts by the 1850s, and it became a norm for defendants to plead guilty to allow for the absolution of the charges or at least some of them depending on the arrangements made with the prosecutors.


Criminal jury trials can be traced to the dikastai settlements of ancient Greece, where citizens were selected to sit in on court trials. This jury practice extends to Medieval Europe, and by the 15th century, it had replaced the ordeal mode of trial, which subjected the defendant to various tortures.


This, in turn, made jury trials an established form of trial for criminal and civil cases. The expansion of the British Empire and the aftermath of the French Revolution allowed criminal jury trials to become even more popular.


How To Decide Whether To Go To Trial Or Take A Plea


Before choosing between trial and taking a plea, defendants need to weigh their choices and consider that while the facts of the case may be the same, the outcomes may differ. This places the defendant in a dilemma because there is a possibility that going to trial might mean a conviction for such things as getting the wrong judge, not having strong political ties, being a man or woman of color, or not being able to afford a good lawyer.


That means that if another defendant takes a bargain and gets off or gets a reduced sentence for the same crime, it doesn’t mean you would. At the same time, before refusing your attorney’s advice to take a plea bargain, be sure to ask questions and understand your lawyer’s intentions before making a decision. Deciding which route is best to take can be like a crap shoot for some defendants.


When deciding whether to plead or not, consider other alternatives to taking the plea. The defendant could either take the plea at the moment, take the plea later, or go straight to trial. This is why, as a defendant, you should be asking questions like:


•     Do I wait until closer to the trial to plead guilty?

•     If I do plead guilty, what are the chances of getting a lesser charge, and how does this charge affect my life after I complete my term?

•     If I go to trial, what sentence would I be most likely to receive?

     •     If I appeal, what are the chances for reversal of an adverse decision?

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Remember that a public defender might opt for an out of court settlement and make plea bargain look like the only option even when there are others; thus, the defendant must be extremely careful.


More often than not, the evidence presented in a case may determine whether a court trial or plea bargain would be best. As good as a plea bargain sounds, it might not work for all cases.




Deciding whether to go to trial or take a plea bargain can be a serious matter. Everyone may not receive the same outcome regarding a plea bargain or trial depending on several factors. Acquiring as much knowledge as possible, from your own research and other expert or professional sources, if you are confronted with criminal charges is important to ensure that you make right the decision for you. It may be best to consult with a lawyer to find out and weigh all of the available options pertaining to a case.


Disclaimer: The content in this article is not to be construed as legal advice.

For more information about criminal plea bargains, click on the links below: 

(Disclaimer: Affiliate Advertising. As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.)

Coercion To Compromise: Plea Bargaining, the Courts, and the Making of Political Authority (Oxford Socio-Legal Studies) by Mary E. Vogel

Plea Bargaining: The Experiences of Prosecutors, Judges, and Defense Attorneys 1st Edition by Milton Heumann

Confronting Underground Justice: Reinventing Plea Bargaining for Effective Criminal Justice Reform Hardcover – October 29, 2018 by William R. Kelly