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Plea bargaining pros and cons for Louisiana defendants

Baton Rouge defendants have a right to a fair trial, but many cases are resolved before a case reaches that point. Criminal cases frequently are settled through plea negotiations between the defendant and prosecutors. Both sides have reasons to avoid trial.

For the government, wrapping up a criminal case before a jury gets involved means saving money and time by shortening the court docket and preserving resources. Prosecutors can spend more time on the most important cases when plea deals are used on smaller ones. An underlying reason for the state to seek a plea might be a weakness in the prosecutor's case that a trial could expose.

Defendants are equally worried about legal outcomes dependent upon jury decisions. No matter what preparations are made heading into trial, neither side can predict with certainty how a jury will respond. That makes plea bargaining attractive, even for innocent defendants.

Typically, prosecutors agree to drop charges or reduce a charge or sentence if a defendant pleads guilty. In some cases, a plea deal is the best option for defendants. But there's always the chance of an acquittal if the case goes to trial, so it's not an easy choice.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, between 90 and 95 percent of all state and federal criminal cases are settled with plea deals. Arguments for and against plea bargains have been around for several years.

Those in favor of the current system say courts and prosecutors could not cope without plea bargaining due to the staggering number of cases. Defendants are able to avoid the stress and expense of a trial.

Opponents say that without plea deals, innocent defendants would not feel forced into entering guilty pleas. Prosecutions would require irrefutable evidence to obtain convictions.

A criminal defense attorney may or may not advise considering a plea deal. Defendants have the last word on whether an agreement is acceptable.

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