feet-pointing-to-trial-arrow-and-plea-bargain-arrowMost misdemeanor and felony criminal cases in Virginia are resolved through plea agreements. As a defendant facing criminal charges, you will likely need to make a critical decision about accepting a plea agreement at some point in your criminal case. You should not take this decision lightly, as it can have lasting implications for your future. You need the help of an experienced Manassas criminal defense attorney to advise you so you can make an informed choice about whether accepting a plea deal is in your best interests.

What is a Plea Agreement?

In a plea bargain, the prosecutor and defendant enter an agreement where the defendant agrees to plead guilty or no contest to specific charges in exchange for certain concessions. The judge must approve any plea agreement, which is not guaranteed. 

Judges favor plea bargains because they help the court resolve their busy court dockets. Prosecutors often prefer them for similar reasons. They are managing high caseloads, and plea agreements help them to resolve their cases more quickly without the need to prepare for a trial.

What Are the Benefits of Agreeing to a Plea Bargain in Virginia?

You must weigh the benefits and drawbacks of the prosecutor's plea agreement. Often, the benefits of agreeing to a plea deal include: 

  • Certainty of the outcome. A plea agreement gives you certainty about the outcome of your criminal case and the potential punishments you face, giving you more control over your life. Even if you have strong defenses or have been falsely accused of a crime, you have no guarantee that you will get the charges dismissed at a trial.
  • Reduced charges and penalties. When you enter a plea bargain, the prosecutor will most likely offer to reduce the charges or the sentence you face. For example, suppose you are charged with shoplifting or auto theft as a felony. You may get the charges reduced to a misdemeanor and avoid the possibility of a lengthy prison sentence if you enter into a plea agreement. 
  • Fewer costs. You can save on significant legal fees, expert witnesses, and other trial-related expenses by avoiding a trial.
  • Less time and stress. Accepting a plea agreement can expedite the resolution of your case, alleviating the emotional strain and uncertainty associated with lengthy court proceedings.

What Are the Drawbacks of Agreeing to a Plea Deal?

Like most decisions in life, there are cons to entering into a plea agreement and pleading guilty to a criminal offense. You must understand the negative consequences of your decision because it can have long-term ramifications for the rest of your life. Here are some drawbacks you should consider:

  • Innocence. Accepting a plea agreement means forfeiting the opportunity to prove your innocence in a jury trial. If you were falsely accused of a crime, you might find it especially hard to agree to plead guilty to any criminal charges.
  • Strong defenses. Even if you are guilty, you may have solid defenses to fight your charges. You cannot pursue your defenses after you enter into a plea agreement.
  • Waiving constitutional rights. By accepting a plea agreement, you voluntarily relinquish important constitutional rights, such as the right to a jury trial, the right to confront witnesses, and the right against self-incrimination. You must carefully consider the implications of waiving these rights before making a decision.
  • Pleading guilty. By entering a plea agreement, you will have to plead guilty or no contest to the charges. 
  • Sentence. While a plea agreement can reduce charges or penalties, you will face some punishments. If you fail to comply with the terms of your sentence, you could face harsher penalties. 
  • Permanent criminal record. Accepting a plea agreement will result in a permeant criminal conviction, which may remain on your record indefinitely. This record can have long-term consequences on things such as future employment prospects, educational opportunities, and professional licenses.