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plea agreement, Skokie criminal defense attorneyMost cases in the Illinois criminal justice system do not end in a trial. Instead, in most cases a criminal defendant accepts a plea deal also known as a plea bargain. Before you decide if a plea bargain is right for you, you need to understand how they work.

The Criminal Justice Process

Plea bargains are used by prosecutors to help keep the criminal justice system moving efficiently. Often a defendant will receive a plea offer early in the case. One of the first formal steps in a criminal case is the arraignment. This is a court hearing at which the defendant is told what he or she is being charged with and where the defendant enters a plea of guilty, not guilty, or other legally acceptable plea.

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NPR recently reported on a new study that says the U.S. Justice Dept. regularly intimidates defendants who have been charged with federal drug offenses with stiff sentences prison sentences, or piling on additional charges, in order to pressure those defendants to plead guilty.

The study was conducted by Human Rights Watch, who issued their findings in a report, “An Offer You Can’t Refuse: How US Federal Prosecutors Force Drug Defendants to Plead Guilty.” The report gives details about federal prosecutors charge defendants with crimes that carry severe mandatory prison sentences if they are found guilty – the group refers to the severity of the sentences as “draconian” in their report. In attempts at plea-bargaining, the federal prosecutors then offer much lighter sentences in exchange for guilty pleas.

Typically, the choice is plead guilty and receive a ten year prison sentence or go to trial and risk receiving a life sentence if found guilty. According to the study, 97 percent of defendants take the deals that federal prosecutors offer them, especially since most defendants charged with drug offenses are found guilty in federal courts.

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