If you are charged with a crime in the state of Colorado – and it can happen to anyone – you should know what a plea bargain is, because you will probably be offered one.

However, the first and most important thing to remember if you are charged with a crime in this state is that you must seek legal advice and representation at once from a Denver drug crimes attorney.

WHAT IS ESSENTIAL FOR EVERY CRIMINAL DEFENDANT?

It cannot be stated strongly enough: It is imperative for every criminal defendant to be advised and represented by a criminal defense lawyer.

Do not accept any “deal” or plea bargain until and unless your defense lawyer recommends accepting it.

This is important: Absolutely do not try to negotiate your own plea bargain. Your attorney is a trained and experienced negotiator. Let that training and experience work for you.

EXACTLY WHAT IS THE DEFINITION OF A PLEA BARGAIN?

A plea bargain may be defined as a contract that is legally binding between a criminal defendant and the state. It is a contract that settles the criminal charge (or charges) against the defendant.

What many people do not realize is that very few criminal cases actually go to trial.

We see trials on television because trials are potentially dramatic, but here in Colorado, fewer than five percent of the charges filed by prosecutors actually become formal courtroom trials.

WHEN DOES PLEA BARGAINING HAPPEN?

Plea negotiations may take place before a suspect is formally charged or subsequent to charges being filed. A plea bargain can be offered after a trial begins or at any time before a verdict is returned.

In the typical plea agreement, a defendant agrees to enter a guilty plea (or a “no contest” plea) on at least one charge in exchange for one or more other charges being dismissed or reduced.

Like any negotiation, the first plea bargain offer from a prosecutor probably is not an offer that a defendant should accept. A plea bargain should be negotiated, and a good defense attorney will see to it that a defendant gets the best possible “deal.”

WHAT ARE THE ADVANTAGES OF PLEA BARGAINING?

Colorado’s criminal courts are always overcrowded, and a formal criminal trial can sometimes drag on for weeks or even months, but a plea bargain can take only minutes.

Plea agreements also give each side more control over the case, because no third party – that is, no jury – is involved, and the behavior of a jury is always impossible to predict.

Colorado’s prosecutors and judges use plea agreements to move cases quickly through the system. Without the use of plea bargains, the criminal court system – in all fifty states – would quickly become unworkable.

Over ninety percent of the criminal convictions in the United States are the products of plea bargains. Colorado prosecutors use guidelines that specify precisely how plea bargains are to be offered and negotiated.

PRECISELY HOW DO PLEA BARGAINS WORK?

A plea agreement usually works in one of these three ways:

1. Sentencing agreements: A defendant pleads guilty or no contest to a charge in return for a reduced sentence.

2. Charge agreements: A defendant pleads guilty to a reduced charge, and the original charge is dropped. In Colorado, for example, a first-time DUI offender may be allowed to plead guilty to wet reckless, and the state in return will dismiss the DUI charge.

3. Count agreements: A defendant pleads guilty to one or several original charges, and the state in return dismisses any other charges.

A plea deal in Colorado can even be negotiated after a trial, if the trial concludes with a hung jury, and either the state or the defense does not wish to go through a second trial.

WHAT IS A “NO CONTEST” PLEA?

Just like a guilty plea, a no contest plea means a conviction. However, a plea of nolo contendere or no contest is the equivalent of saying, “I am not guilty, but I do not wish to contest the charge.”

Liability is the reason why most no contest pleas are entered.

Let’s say that a defendant injures someone while committing a robbery, and that victim sues the defendant for medical expenses. An admission of guilt in a criminal case means that a civil court will almost certainly find the defendant liable in any civil case that arises from the crime.

But whether the plea is guilty or no contest, most criminal defendants “take the deal,” but you should never take a “deal” until you know that you have the best possible offer.

HOW CAN A DEFENSE LAWYER HELP YOU?

A defense lawyer who routinely negotiates on behalf of clients will know what offer to accept and what offers should be rejected.

Of course, if you are not guilty of the crime, you should not accept any plea offer or make any agreement. A qualified criminal defense attorney will advocate aggressively for your acquittal and for the justice you deserve.

If the evidence against you is persuasive, and if the prosecutor’s case against you is sound, you should let your attorney negotiate the best possible plea agreement for you.

A plea agreement often make sense because trials are risky, juries are unpredictable, and even the best lawyer cannot promise or guarantee a result in any specific case. If you reject a plea deal and go to trial, a much harsher sentence is a possibility you must consider.

IF YOU ARE OFFERED A PLEA DEAL, WHAT ELSE MUST BE CONSIDERED?

In the end, the choice to reject or accept a plea agreement is the defendant’s choice. However, a defendant really must give serious consideration to his or her attorney’s recommendations.

Colorado prosecutors can’t possibly take every case to trial, so if you are charged with a crime, you will probably be offered a plea deal.

You will need the advice, insights, and representation that an experienced criminal defense lawyer can provide.

If you are charged with a crime in Colorado, your freedom and your future will be on the line. You must get the legal help you need, and you must get it at once. That is your right.

By: Dan Murphy

Denver criminal defense lawyer Daniel M. Murphy provides clients in the Denver area with aggressive and sympathetic legal representation. He graduated from the University of Denver Law School in 1994 and worked as a public defender before starting his own practice in 1996. He has defended clients accused of the most difficult criminal and alcohol-related charges. He also serves as a Moot Court Judge for Denver-area law students who rely on his mentorship.