Plea Bargaining is a conventional term used to describe the process of working out a better deal than what has been originally offered to a criminal Defendant to close out his case. That term may be too crude for some and is thus also referred to as "Plea Negotiations". Since criminal courts grow more crowded each day, prosecutors and judges need to take some pressure off their swelling caseloads and enter into Plea Negotiations with a Defendant. Over 95% of criminal cases are resolved this way.
What is in it for a Defendant?
Defendants who are represented by a private lawyer may lower attorneys' fees by accepting a Plea Negotiation. Private lawyers often quote legal fees based on the amount of work that needs to be done. If a client comes to the attorney unwilling to contest the charges, he may hire the attorney to "work a deal". That approach can save a lot of money since the lawyer will take less time to do that than try the case.
Release From Custody
Defendants who are waiting in jail before trial either are being held on a non-bondable offense or they are unable to post bond or don't meet the criteria for a pre-trial release program or do not qualify for release on their own recognizance. A defendant may get out of jail immediately, or a lot sooner, if they accept a plea deal.
Getting it Over With
Accepting a plea resolves the case and eliminates the stress of waiting for your case to go to court. Choosing to take your case to trial usually requires a much longer wait.
Keeping Your Record Clean (or Cleaner)
Pleading guilty or no contest in exchange for a reduction of the charges to lesser offenses can appear a lot better on a criminal record than convictions that might result following trial. This can mean a lot if the Defendant is charged with other crimes down the road.
For example, a second conviction for DUI often carries mandatory jail time if it occurs within a short time form a prior conviction. If the first dui offense had been reduced (broken down) to reckless driving, there would be no mandatory jail time required to be imposed on the next DUI case.
Avoiding Criminal Convictions
In many states, first offenders are eligible to enroll in Pre-Trial Diversion programs, if negotiated by the defense attorney and offered by the prosecutor. Upon completion of the program conditions, the State will dismiss the case.
The dismissal can allow a Defendant to apply for an Expungement/sealing of the criminal history record.