->''"I was convicted of a crime I did not commit. I plea-bargained down from the one I actually did."''
-->-- '''Rufus T. "Buck" Wild''', ''ComicBook/{{Icon}}''

Very few attorneys can make a living solely representing innocent people who have been falsely accused of crimes. ''Franchise/PerryMason'' and ''VisualNovel/{{Phoenix Wright|AceAttorney}}'', for example. But most defense attorneys don't have that luxury. Guilty people are legally entitled to representation too (at least in most modern democracies) and odds are a given lawyer will wind up with at least a few of them as clients.

Now, if the prosecution's case is weak, or you've got a flair for the dramatic, {{Courtroom Antic}}s and [[MyRuleFuIsStrongerThanYours looking for technicalities]] might [[OffOnATechnicality win the day]]. But sometimes the evidence is airtight, the prosecutor is a pro, and the judge has no mercy. At that point, the client's best interest might lie in making a Plea Bargain.

Essentially, the defendant agrees to plead "guilty" to one or more charges, in exchange for a lighter sentence. Often, a lesser charge is agreed to, avoiding a harsher penalty. For example, plea bargaining a felony down to misdemeanor, or an offense that would get the defendant on a "sex offenders" listing down to one that will not. The prosecutor may also ''recommend'' a lighter sentence to the judge, usually within the standard range. For instance, crime A is worth 6-9 months, crime B is worth 18-24 months. The accused was originally charged with crime B, but bargains and pleads guilty to crime A, and in exchange, the prosecutor recommends a sentence of 6 months. The judge may choose to give more, but only up to 9 months. Also note that the acceptance of the plea bargain is entirely dependent on the judge: if he or she feels the plea bargain is a gross {{miscarriage of justice}} (if a first-degree murder is pleaded down to manslaughter, for example), the plea bargain can be ''rejected''. If this happens, expect the judge to rebuke the prosecution. The other side of the coin is the problem with District Attorneys "front loading" the charges and potential sentences against the defendant to encourage a plea bargain. Many defendants who are either innocent or at least believe they have a reasonable chance at being found not guilty at trial plea bargain out anyways -- if crime B is worth 5-10 years jail but a plea bargain is available for crime A that allows for 6-9 months jail, many defendants would take the plea even if innocent to avoid the risk of spending 10 years inside.

In some cases, the defendant will be required to testify against other criminals as part of the deal, or to [[BoxedCrook provide other services]].

And it's a pretty good deal for the prosecution too, usually. Sure, they probably could have gotten a conviction, but full trials take time, and money, and tie up attorneys who could be working on the next case. It has been pointed out many times that if a sizable number of defendants suddenly refused to plea bargain, it would cause a collapse of the entire legal system, as the government would be unable to hold trials for them all (some have suggested they do this to protest). In the United States, as much as '''97% of cases are resolved by plea bargaining'''.[[note]]Note that on account of the US' peculiar drug laws, a lot of these are drug cases. Evidence tends to be particularly airtight with drug possession -- after all, it's hard (though [[RefugeInAudacity not impossible]], and also [[TooDumbToLive not recommended]]) to say "No, I wasn't carrying any drugs" when the police have the drugs and you before the court -- making trials a waste of everyone's time. Because the facts are usually undisputed, usually the defense might make a few motions to see if the drugs can be suppressed for some kind of police misconduct, but that almost inevitably fails, and then begins the bargaining. Weapons-possession charges follow much the same pattern: the prosecution just has to show that you had the weapon and weren't licensed. This can get a little complicated (for instance, when the weapon isn't a gun but something like a knife that could be used as a tool, or when there's a gun in a car with multiple people and nobody will cop to owning it), but it's fundamentally not a case that's really suitable for trial.[[/note]] Note also this can be subject to EaglelandOsmosis. In most civil law nations, it's simply not possible. Even if you plead guilty, they do a full trial to establish how much time you get. In the other [[UsefulNotes/TheCommonLaw common law]] nations, it's officially frowned on and officially doesn't happen. Unofficially, it happens all the time, but it's considered very impolite to suggest it. This has been a huge issue at international tribunals. Depending on conditions in the facility a suspect is held in prior to trial, it could also be seen as [[PerpSweating coercing a confession]]; criminal-justice reforms like those implemented in UsefulNotes/WashingtonDC in the 1980s and UsefulNotes/NewJersey in 2017, which feature getting rid of pretrial detention in most cases, are partly aimed at fixing this problem.

With the vastly overcrowded court system, any case which is NOT settled in a plea bargain is one where either the defense feels there is a very good chance to win or the prosecution feels the crime is so bad and has so much publicity they won't.

Because a plea bargain is not nearly as dramatic as a case that goes to trial, the frequency of the two is inverted between RealLife and fiction.

Some dramatic situations that might be seen with a plea bargain:
* The attorney tries to get one for a client, but the client has the attitude IWontSayImGuilty, forcing a trial to go forward.
* If the client is innocent, an AmoralAttorney -- or [[BeleagueredBureaucrat an overworked one]] -- may pressure him to do a plea bargain anyway, because the case would be too hard to win, or for less savory reasons.
* A particularly vile defendant offers a plea bargain that essentially lets him get off scot-free, and the prosecution refuses it.
* The main story is about someone else's trial, and the person who made a plea bargain testifies against them as part of the deal. Naturally, the second defendant's attorney will [[AdHominem cast aspersions]] on the witness' motivations and veracity.



[[folder: Comic Books]]

* As seen in the page quote, Buck Wild from Creator/MilestoneComics' ''ComicBook/{{Icon}}'' series benefited from one of these.
* ''ComicStrip/BloomCounty'' parodies this with a plea bargain for the death penalty.
* John Hartigan from ''Comicbook/SinCity'' agrees to a plea bargain so that he could get parole and track down Nancy Callahan, believing that she had been kidnapped.


[[folder: Comic Strips]]

* ''ComicStrip/{{Garfield}}'': [[https://garfield.com/comic/2010/12/01 Parodied at this strip.]]
-->'''Jon:''' Santa knows when you've been bad.
-->'''Garfield:''' Maybe I could cop a plea bargain.


[[folder: Film]]

* In ''Film/AFewGoodMen'', Lt. Dan Kaffee (Creator/TomCruise's character) has made a career out of skillful plea bargaining, but he decides not to on this case once he sees the emotional damage it'd do to his clients.
** Not only has Kaffee made a career out of his plea negotiating skills, but it's pretty much implied that the authorities assigned him to the case with the expectation that he'd plea his clients out, thus preventing the scandalous details of PFC Santiago's death from becoming public.
** Kaffee actually takes the plea bargain to his client, who gives him an earful of IWontSayImGuilty.
* Velma Kelly gets a plea bargain in exchange for testifying against Roxie Hart in ''Film/{{Chicago}}''.
* A plea bargain given to the wrong party (the actual killer, who sold his patsy down the river) is the motive for ''Film/LawAbidingCitizen'' to go on a RoaringRampageOfRevenge.
* In ''The Trials of Oscar Wilde'' the title character's lawyer is disgusted when he learns that Wilde lied under oath about being gay (it's the lie that he objects to; he feels like Wilde suckered him into betraying his professional ethics). However, he agrees to defend Wilde against charges of [[ValuesDissonance "gross indecency"]] when he learns that the prosecution is offering plea bargains to male prostitutes in exchange for evidence against Wilde - at the time, this sort of arrangement was absolutely unheard of under English law, and the lawyer feels it's a far worse perversion of justice than Wilde's perjuring himself.
* ''Film/TheLincolnLawyer'' once pressured a client charged with rape and murder to plead guilty so he'd be sentenced to just 30 years with a chance to obtain a parole after 15 years. That came to bite him hard when he not only learned the client was innocent but he was also defending the actual culprit from an attempted rape charge.
* ''Film/ConAir'' had an illegal usage of a plea bargain: the judge agreed to the bargain, and then reneged on the terms offered to the defendant.


[[folder: Literature ]]

* Averted in ''Literature/DarknessAtNoon'': whereas other prisoners are made to confess through torture, or to save their own lives or those of their relatives, Rubashov is promised no reward for willingly denouncing himself as a traitor.


[[folder: Live Action TV ]]

* Attempts at plea bargains are common in the various ''Series/LawAndOrder'' series, usually between the apprehension and trial phases.
** Which is a bit of a problem in the UK version as plea bargains aren't allowed under English law (although reduced sentances for pleading guilty are standard practice). Charges often get reduced to something more minor for one reason and another -assault with a deadly weapon instead of attempted murder, for example- but that's up to the Crown ''Prosecution'' Service[[note]]sort of like District Attorneys in the US, but on the 'federal' level[[/note]] rather than the accused's defence team.
* ''Series/{{Shark}}'' (the show with James Woods) has this happen regularly, or at least has attempts to plea bargain.
* ''Series/HomicideLifeOnTheStreet'' frequently went to plea bargain by the end of the story.
* There is an episode of ''Series/BostonLegal'' that uses this. Alan Shore's client an old friend and fellow lawyer who is accused of murder. She is offered a plea bargain at the beginning but of course [[IWontSayImGuilty won't say she's guilty]] and has a BigSecret.
* Plea bargains are commonplace on ''Series/{{JAG}}'', but they're often turned down.
* Happens all the time on ''Series/TheCloser'' and its AfterShow, ''Series/MajorCrimes''. One instance of it on ''The Closer'' is notable because it backfired ''spectacularly''. An elderly shopkeeper and his 8-year-old grandson are shot to death by a local gang member, and the police think that they know who it is. They also think that ''another'' gang member witnessed the murder or maybe, at most, was an accomplice. The potential witness is offered an immunity agreement, stating that he won't get charged with anything in exchange for telling them everything he knows, in the hopes that his testimony will be enough to get the other guy. Except it turns out the guy they thought did it was innocent, the "witness" committed the murder himself, and the other guy just happened to come into the shop as the killer was leaving. So basically, they've just let a guy off scot-free for murdering an old man and a child.
* The issue of whether or not to accept an offered plea bargain is a common plot point in ''Series/ThePractice''. In one episode, Todd Beck was arrested for killing a cop and the victim's partners decided to coerce a confession from him instead of allowing the doctors to give him the needed medical care. To make things worse, the prosecutor in charge of the case was [[AmoralAttorney Kenneth Walsh]], who condoned the torture. Beck was forced to testify against Joe Moran (a friend of Beck's who was at the crime scene). Walsh then offered Moran immunity in exchange for testifying against Beck. The judge was appalled at this but [[OffOnATechnicality had to allow this since Moran wasn't forced to testify]]. Walsh then offered Beck a deal: if he pleads guilty to illegally possessing a gun, he gets six months for that and it'd be officially declared he was justified about shooting the cop. Beck accepted the deal.
* In ''Series/RumpoleOfTheBailey'', Rumpole ultimately makes a point of never having his clients plead guilty, and any lawyer in the books who even thinks of plea bargaining is seen as a moron. The odd thing is that Rumpole sometimes does lose the case this way, but the story is clearly on his side.
** There is one story where Rumpole does end up going for a plea bargain, but only after his client has made it impossible for him to continue believing in her innocence, and his principles won't allow him to defend somebody he knows to be guilty.
** By contrast, Rumpole does attempt plea-bargaining at times in the series; the first "Play for Today" pilot [[EarlyInstallmentWeirdness had him advise this right off the bat]], while in subsequent cases he appeared to be willing to do a deal when (and only when) he could get the client out of jail time, which usually meant that the judge was sympathetic (usually a former member of his chambers--particularly Guthrie Featherstone and Phyllida Erskine-Brown).
* In the American version of ''Series/ShamelessUS'' Fiona is arrested for child endangerment for accidentally allowing her younger brother Liam to get into some cocaine she had out in the open. Her somewhat overworked lawyer tells her that it would be best to plea bargain, as she's a first time offender, it's a fairly open-and-shut case, and at worst she'd probably only get 1-3 months in jail. Fiona, however, is resistant to plead guilty as the entire affair was an accident, and has to be persuaded to accept the plea deal (she ends up not having to actually serve any time, and is instead given probation).
* In ''Series/OrangeIsTheNewBlack'', the entire reason Piper convicted is because someone else in the drug ring named her as a part of a plea bargain. [[spoiler: She later discovers that the person who named her is Alex.]]
* The ''Series/StarTrekDeepSpaceNine'' pilot has Sisko invoke the Ferengi version of plea bargaining when Nog gets arrested; he drops the charges if the Ferengi keep themselves (and their community-building business) on the station instead of leaving as they planned, or he makes sure Nog gets a long sentence. Sisko freely calls it blackmail in later episodes.


[[folder: Video Games ]]

* In the second case of ''VisualNovel/PhoenixWrightAceAttorneyJusticeForAll'', the first thing Franziska von Karma tells Phoenix at the start of the trial is that he would be pleading "justified self-defense" within the first 10 minutes of the trial. Phoenix is later gave the choice of pleading or not, but the situation is a ButThouMust and he ends up not pleading. [[JustifiedTrope Justified]] because entering a plea of "justified self-defense" would be the same as confessing to a murder, which would ruin the client's life.


[[folder: Western Animation ]]

* ''WesternAnimation/BatmanBeyond'': District Attorney Sam Young's reelection campaign in "Eyewitness" had it mentioned that, during his tenure, the District Attorney's office had a decrease in the ratio of plea bargains for violent crimes.


[[folder: Real Life ]]

* During Prohibition, "bargain days" were the only way many courts could keep up with the alcohol-related workload. Everyone who agreed to plead guilty in exchange for the smallest penalty the judge could get away with would be scheduled for the same court date, and the formalities were zipped through to clear as many cases off the docket as possible.
** Nowadays this often happens (albeit less frequently) with possession charges for small amounts of marijuana. Again, the issue here is that in contraband cases, a trial is generally worse than useless--it would be pointless for the defendant to deny the charge, since the only way you get caught is if the cops actually see you commit the crime (carrying the contraband), so once the defense lawyer has tried and (usually) failed to get the evidence suppressed for alleged police misconduct, the defendant usually just wants to get the business over with.
* [[UsefulNotes/{{Canada}} Canadian]] serial killer Karla Homolka is one infamous example of a plea bargain. After assisting her husband Paul Bernardo in the murder and rape of three girls (including her own sister) in the city of St. Catharine's, she struck a deal with the prosecutors and received a 12 year sentence in exchange for taking the stand against Bernardo, who ended up getting life. Unfortunately, not long after the trial closed, tapes were found of the murders that revealed that Karla had had more to do with the murders than previously thought. For this reason, the case is often referred to as "the {{deal with the devil}}."
** Any smart prosecutor would make the deal dependent on her telling the full truth, with the agreement being that it was invalid if she didn't. In the USA, the prosecutor can do this. Such agreements can be worse for the guilty party than otherwise, because they can allow the prosecutor to then use any statements made prior, as well as set aside statutes of limitation.
*** Whatever deal was made was finalized when the court pronounced its sentence; Canada has legal rules similar to American Double Jeopardy laws that prevent retrials except under specific conditions. The intelligence level of the prosecutor was irrelevant; while it's difficult (but possible, unlike in the U.S.) to retry someone found not guilty, it's most certainly not allowed to try someone a second time for a crime for which they ''had already been found guilty and been sentenced'', regardless of new information.
* Creator/RomanPolanski's reasons for escaping from his sexual assault case in the USA. As per an agreement, Polanski confessed to his crime and submitted himself to Chino where he served 60 out of 90 days in prison before being released as per the recommendation of his psychological evaluation handler for good behavior. As a result of increasing media publicity, the Judge Lawrence Rittenband said, as the DA would note later, very negligently, that he was willing to ignore the plea bargain and submit Polanski to a stricter sentence. At this point, Polanski decided to leave America for good rather than deal with the situation.
* Despite possibly killing close to a hundred people, serial killer Carl Eugene Watts ("The Sunday Morning Slasher") was nearly released in 2006 due to a plea bargain made at the time of his initial conviction. Thankfully, evidence was uncovered of two more murders he committed. He was convicted in both cases. Watts died in 2007 while serving two life sentences.
* Jared Loughner was initially ruled not competent to stand trial after the [[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2011_Tucson_shooting attempted assassination]] of Gabrielle Giffords. When he was finally ruled competent in August 2012, he and his lawyers agreed to plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence (Arizona has the death penalty). Considering that it's anyone's guess whether Loughner could have been kept on the "mentally competent" list for the full duration of a trial, the deal was accepted.