plea bargaining

plea bargaining, negotiation in which a defendant agrees to plead guilty to a criminal charge in exchange for concessions by the prosecutor (representing the state). The defendant waives the right to trial, losing any chance for acquittal, but usually avoids conviction on a more serious charge. The state, on the other hand, is not required to go through a long, costly trial. Issues negotiated in plea bargaining include a reduction of the charge, a specific recommendation for sentence, or agreement by the prosecutor not to oppose a request for probation. In the United States, vast majority of criminal cases at the state and federal levels are settled by plea bargains; less than 10% of federal felony cases, for example, go to trial. In 2012 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that defendants have a constitutional right to competent legal advice with respect to a plea bargain.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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