Should I consider a plea bargain in my Indiana criminal case?

While plea bargains may seem attractive, people in Indiana considering one should always consult with an attorney to determine their merit.

Former Subway spokesman Jared Fogle made headlines last year when he fell under investigation for child pornography. According to CNN, Fogle reached a plea bargain with prosecutors dictating that he plead guilty in an Indianapolis court. In exchange, federal prosecutors would recommend a prison sentence term that would be less than 13 years. Fogle also agreed to pay $100,000 in restitution to 14 people who were affected by his activities, undergo treatment and refrain from having unsupervised visits with minors.

According to The New York Times, 94 percent of cases handled at the state level and 97 percent of federal matters end in a plea bargain. This route can be beneficial for people facing criminal charges, though they should be approached with caution and under the advisement of an attorney. Here are some considerations for anyone who has been offered a plea agreement:

Are there other options?

One of the most important things someone can do after getting charged with a crime is to weigh all the possible legal options. A criminal defense attorney can outline all the possibilities, which could include a diversion program. In Indiana, many counties have pre-trial programs that enable first-time offenders defendants charged with minor crimes such as possession of marijuana or public intoxication to have the charges dismissed. People who qualify will have to pay fines and participate in behavior modification programs, counseling and/or community service.

Which type of plea bargain is it?

Courts will generally recognize three types of bargains, which include the following:

  • Charge bargaining: This enables a defendant to plea guilty to a lesser charge, generally garnering a less severe sentence.
  • Sentence bargaining: A defendant pleads guilty to a charge but will receive a lighter sentence.
  • Fact bargaining: The least common, this requires a defendant to admit to certain facts, preventing other facts from becoming evidence.

In any scenario, state or federal prosecutors and the defense will work together to develop the agreement.

What are the advantages?

If the plea deal is a sound one, it can offer defendants a number of advantages. For example, someone who accepts the agreement could spend less time in prison or completely avoid it. Further, defendants can save time and money on going to trial. Trials can be unpredictable, and plea agreements offer a sense of control. Lastly, plea bargaining can ensure that someone has either fewer or less serious charges on his or her record.

What are the disadvantages?

There are downsides to plea bargains. In some situations, prosecutors may offer a plea agreement because they do not have a strong enough case to convict. In those cases, it may be worthwhile to go to trial.

Additionally, some people feel pressured to plead guilty due to a fear of the outcome of trial, even if they have not committed the crime. A guilty plea is final and will result in a permanent mark on a criminal record.

No plea bargain should ever be taken lightly. An attorney well-versed in the law should review the agreement to determine whether or not it is in a defendant's best interests. Anyone who has been charged with a crime should immediately consult with a defense attorney.