Plea bargaining is when your criminal defense lawyer comes to an agreement with the prosecuting attorney to have you plead guilty in exchange for a reduced charge or fewer charges. Plea bargains can be beneficial to you if there is any chance of a conviction and you want to avoid jail time.
This is how the process works: Once the trial date is set, the district attorney will start preparing for trial by gathering evidence and looking at the police reports. The D.A. will weigh the likelihood of taking your case to trial based on the amount of evidence against you. Whether the evidence is considered “strong” or “weak” depends on several factors including the likelihood of witnesses testifying, conflicting testimonies, and the presence of DNA evidence and other types of evidence.
The district attorney and your criminal attorney will meet prior to your trial date to evaluate the evidence for a possible conviction. If your criminal lawyer is working your case appropriately, he or she could argue that the case is weak and should be dismissed or amended to a lesser charge. The district attorney wants to avoid a Not Guilty verdict and your attorney wants for you to avoid jailtime — hopefully both sides will reach a compromise that will be beneficial to you.
Plea bargaining can take place at any point during trial preparation, and often happens on the day of the trial. In Lafayette Parish, pre-trials are scheduled on the day before the trial to provide a chance for the defense and prosecuting attorneys to meet and negotiate a compromise. The D.A. will often make an offer at the pre-trial and if accepted by you and your attorney, will then enter your plea and you will receive your sentence. In Mississippi, on the other hand, there are no pre-trials. In most cases, the trial date is simply set and your attorney will need to schedule a meeting with the D.A. prior to the trial date.
Of course, if you are innocent, you should go to trial and not plea to anything — unless the severity of punishment associated with the falsely charged crime is so heavy and extreme that your attorney could be forced to agree to some kind of plea agreement that keeps you out of jail. If you are in the unfortunate position of being guilty, you might want your attorney to get the D. A. to amend the charge to a misdemeanor or some kind of felony charge that allows you to receive probation rather than jail time. Most importantly make sure your defense attorney knows when it is time to demand a trial and when it is time to reach a compromise.