The vast majority of criminal cases involve some degree of plea bargaining. Whether or not it is a good idea for the defendant to accept a plea bargain depends on the details of the case, but usually plea bargaining occurs because it has the potential to be beneficial for both the defense and the prosecution.
There are three areas of negotiation involved with plea bargaining. According to FindLaw, these three areas are charge bargaining, sentence bargaining and fact bargaining.
What is charge bargaining?
By far, charge bargaining is the most common variety of plea bargaining and is likely what most people think of when they discuss plea bargaining. Essentially, charge bargaining involves the defendant pleading guilty to lesser crimes in order to avoid going to trial for more serious ones.
A common example is a defendant agreeing to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of assault and battery to avoid having to go to trial for aggravated assault. Or, a defendant might plead guilty to manslaughter to avoid murder charges.
What are sentence and fact bargaining?
Sentence bargaining is similar to charge bargaining but less common. With sentence bargaining the actual nature of the charge remains the same but the prosecution reduces the penalties for pleading guilty.
Fact bargaining is the least-used variety of plea bargaining. With fact bargaining, the defendant agrees to concede to specific facts in return for the prosecution not introducing other facts into evidence. Fact bargaining can benefit the prosecution because it removes the need for the prosecution to prove certain things, and it can benefit the defendant for the prosecution to not release evidence that may not be directly pursuant to the charges but could otherwise be damaging.