Plea Bargain: Definition, Process, Pros & Cons

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  • 0:04 A Look at Plea Bargains
  • 1:05 Process
  • 1:39 Pros and Cons of Plea Bargains
  • 2:34 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Schubert

Jessica is a practicing attorney and has taught law and has a J.D. and LL.M.

After you complete this lesson, you will understand what constitutes a plea bargain. You will also learn the process of plea bargaining, as well as the pros and cons of a plea bargain.

A Look at Plea Bargains

To understand a plea bargain, let's begin with an example. Let's say that Abe has a prior driving while intoxicated (DWI) offense on his record. He goes out one night and gets into an accident where a party is killed. He is charged with the highest possible charge of murder, which carries a 30-year or more sentence in prison.

Abe's chances at trial are unclear, but if he agrees to admit his guilt to a lower charge of manslaughter, he will serve a 15-year sentence. Abe's choices are to either admit he is guilty and accept a 15-year sentence or to take his chances in court and possibly face at least 30 years behind bars. He chooses the first option.

Abe's attorneys work with the government, or state, attorneys to create an agreement, which Abe signs. The agreement represents the plea bargain that Abe made with the government. He agrees to admit fault in order to avoid a maximum sentence, which could have been the result of a trial.


The process of obtaining a plea bargain is typically initiated by the state or government attorneys, also known as prosecutors. Frequently, the use of a plea bargain is made when the chances of the outcome at trial are unclear. Therefore, the defendant obtains a benefit by taking the plea bargain because the penalty may be less than if the defendant goes to trial and is found guilty of the crime. In other words, in order for the defendant's exchange for the plea of guilty, the state will lower the severity of the penalty or even the number of charges against the defendant.

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