So what is plea bargaining?

One step in the process of a trial.

The Judicial Branch of government, which is written in Article III of the Constitution of the United States, ensures that every person who is accused of a crime has the right to a fair trial before a capable judge and a jury of one’s peers. The trial court process, criminal proceedings, is a lengthy process which begins with the arrest by a law enforcement official. As this diagram of a trial court proceeding from the American Bar Association depicts, there are many steps and several possible outcomes based on the trial proceedings.

  • Crime:
    • Reported Crime
    • Investigation
    • Arrest
    • Booking
    • Initial Appearance
  • Petty Offenses:
    • Pre-Trial activities
      • Guilty Plea
      • Trial
      • Sentencing
      • Jail or Probation
  • Misdemeanors OR Felonies:
    • Preliminary Hearing
    • Bail OR Detention
    • Pre-Trial Activities
    • Guilty Plea OR Trial
    • Sentencing
    • Jail OR Probation
    • Felonies:     
      • Penitentiary
      • Possible Parole
      • Out of System

However, one segment of the process that we often hear about is the plea bargain. As seen in the news, social media and other visual media, legal representative states that their client has chosen to “take the plea bargain.” According to the American Bar Association (ABA) a plea bargain is the agreement from both sides in a criminal case coming to a mutual agreement. A plea bargain can occur for many reasons:

  • To avoid time and costs
  • To avoid harsher punishment
  • To spare each side from a level of uncertainty
  • The burden on court in conducting a trial on every crime

The plea bargain may involve the defendant pleading guilty to a lesser charge, one of several charges, or as charged. It is important to note that the judge is not bound to follow the prosecution’s recommendation. The plea bargaining process is usually conducted in private and isn’t shared until court is in session. Other alternatives include diversion which is applied to less serious criminal matters. A diversion may be applied by removing traffic, juvenile, or some minor criminal charges from a full judicial process. For more information on the court process or guidance on legal matters please contact a licensed attorney. 

To learn more about Government and Public Policy programs offered through Michigan State University Extension please contact me, Tribal Extension educator with questions or comments at (231)-439-8927 or 

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