Not all criminal cases in Florida end up in trial. Many end early thanks to plea bargaining. The purpose of plea negotiation and how it works are described below.
According to the American Bar Association, plea bargaining helps the court system be more efficient by not requiring the resources of a full trial for every criminal offense. From a practical standpoint, a plea bargain can be helpful for criminal defendants, too. It provides greater certainty on the outcome of a criminal case and allows criminal defendants to plan how to move forward with their lives.
A plea bargain can begin with either the prosecutor or the defendant approaching the other party. The prosecution may offer to push for a reduced penalty if the defendant pleads guilty to the charges. The defendant may agree to plead guilty, but to fewer or less serious charges than are listed in the indictment. In some states, judges have the final say to approve a plea agreement. Victim advocates sometimes have an opportunity to become involved in the plea negotiation, too.
Some of the legal ramifications of plea bargaining have been addressed by Cornell Law School. A plea bargain requires defendants to waive some Fifth and Sixth Amendment Rights protected by the Constitution. Defendants should also know that plea bargains can be broken when a defendant fails to abide by its terms. If a plea bargain is broken, a prosecutor may choose to press forward in court with more serious charges and penalties. Defendants are never forced to take a plea bargain, but if a prosecutor attempts to violate an existing plea agreement, a judge may force the prosecutor to abide by its terms.