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Why judges and prosecutors like plea bargains

Many Washington residents may have heard of the concept of plea bargaining and how it can help a person charged with a crime, but they may not know why it is also attractive to judges and prosecutors. For them, it appeals to a principle known as "judicial economy." This is the idea that cases need to be handled as quickly as possible, and plea bargains help do so.

It can take months or even years for a case to come to trial on a judge's crowded calendar, and a plea bargain means one trial fewer. Furthermore, a plea bargain is reached through a process of compromise and cooperation, so from a judge's point of view, compliance is more likely than if it is court-ordered. Plea bargains also free up prison space for more dangerous criminals.

Prosecutors have limited resources as well. Their calendars are also full, and they would prefer to spend public money on the most serious offenses. A plea bargain allows them to quickly deal with lesser offenses. A plea bargain has some other advantages for prosecutors as well. It may put them in a good position with a judge who appreciates the efforts to keep the calendar less crowded. A plea bargain still counts as a conviction in a prosecutor's record. It also represents a certainty unlike a case that goes to trial.

A plea negotiation may be the best option for some people charged with a crime. Often, it involves pleading guilty to a reduced charge and receiving a lesser penalty as well. It can be particularly advantageous if a person is facing severe penalties and the prosecution has a great deal of evidence. However, a person is not required to accept a plea bargain. While the defendant's attorney may recommend it, the defendant is free to enter a not guilty plea and fight the charges in court.

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