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Plea bargaining considerations for Virginia defendants

They are called deals because, in essence, that's exactly what they are. The Commonwealth of Virginia, represented by prosecutors, and accused defendants, backed by criminal defense attorneys, come to terms. The defendant offers to plead guilty to obtain a charge or sentence reduction.

States don't have the resources to try every defendant. Each plea deal eliminates the expense, preparation and time devoted to a jury trial. Defendants have several reasons to favor this solution.

Depending upon charges involved, the case could receive a great deal of media attention. Many defendants are very stressed by the legal process, as are most people facing unwelcome and unfamiliar circumstances. There is at least one reason to enter plea negotiations that is beneficial to both sides – relative certainty.

A jury's decision cannot be predicted. The contents of a plea deal are solid. Plea agreements also allow the defendant to make personal choices.

Some legal analysts feel guilty defendants have little to lose by bargaining with prosecutors. Innocent defendants may do better to stand before a jury in the hope of an acquittal. However, the jury's unpredictability may be a higher risk than a defendant is willing to take.

Does this mean innocent defendants sometimes plead guilty to avoid an unknown outcome? In truth, they do. There is the possibility a case could be lost at trial, resulting in harsher punishments than those proposed by prosecutors.

Plea agreements can be forged with or without a judge's involvement, according to jurisdictional standards. Judges are not required to accept the deal the prosecutor makes with the defendant. Sentences can be altered at a judge's discretion.

Ultimately, the decision whether or not to accept a plea deal belongs to the accused. A criminal defense attorney makes sure defendants understand the possible consequences of accepting or rejecting a deal. Nevertheless, lawyers approach every case as if they were headed to trial.

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