For a criminal case defendant, negotiating with the criminal justice system often starts at the moment of apprehension or arrest. It can be as simple as trying to persuade a police officer not to write you that speeding ticket, or if that fails trying to convince the traffic court judge that you shouldn’t have to pay the ticket amount, or at least not all of it.
Similarly, for more serious criminal charges there are also negotiations that often take place. The term for these negotiations is something that you are probably familiar with if you have ever watched a police drama on television: “plea bargaining.”
But why should prosecutors enter into plea negotiations? Why shouldn’t they just “throw the book” at you, if they are confident enough in your guilt to have arrested you in the first place? There are actually multiple reasons why plea bargaining still takes place, even in apparently open-and-shut cases.
To begin with, prosecutors and police often have heavy workloads and many courts in Kentucky and elsewhere have lengthy backlogs of cases awaiting trial. If prosecutors insisted on pursuing the maximum charges in every case, there would be no incentive for defendants and their attorneys to do anything but defend themselves to the utmost, and that can mean months and often years of pretrial activity, clogging the court calendars even more.
Furthermore, if police officers had to take time off of their work to testify at every trial for incidents in which they made an arrest that could lead to less efficiency in community safety: a police officer on the witness stand is a police officer who is not out on patrol.
“Judicial economy” is one way that prosecutors describe the motivation to engage in plea bargaining. Many times it is more efficient to offer a defendant a lesser sentence and reduced charges in return for a guilty plea on a lesser charge.
Whether you should enter into plea bargaining is a question that you should consider carefully with your criminal defense attorney. There may be times when it might serve you to entertain negotiation with prosecutors, and times when you should perhaps refuse such negotiation. Your attorney will be able to help you to decide which course is in your best interest.