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Basic Trope: In exchange for a lighter sentence, a person pleads guilty to a crime they committed instead of going to trial.

  • Straight: Bob is charged with Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking, and pleads guilty to those crimes. He is sent to Prison, but for a much shorter term than he normally would have.
  • Exaggerated:
    • Bob pleads guilty to jaywalking, and he receives a slap on the wrist. Meanwhile, the arson and murder charges are dropped.
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    • Bail Equals Freedom
  • Downplayed: Instead of being executed, Bob is sent to prison for 25 years with possibility of parole.
  • Justified:
    • Usually, trials take several days, weeks, or even months. If a defendant pleads guilty, then there is no need to go through all that rigamarole, and that saves the court system both time and money.
    • The judge appreciates Bob's honesty, and rewards him by handing down a lighter sentence.
    • Bob doesn't think he's got good odds in court, so he decides not to risk a heavier sentence.
    • The D.A. wants to find out from Bob about other conspirators who weren't caught, but Bob wants to know what's in it for him.
  • Inverted:
    • Bob pleads guilty to the charges, and has to go to trial.
    • Bob pleads not guilty to the charges and does not have to go to trial.
  • Subverted:
    • Bob pleads guilty, but he still faces a lengthy Prison term.
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    • Jon agrees to a plea bargain and honors it. The prosecution however, doesn't keep their word, and gives him a longer sentence, and if he's really unlucky, he is given a sentence which is truly Disproportionate Retribution.
    • Bob pleads guilty to the jaywalking charge, but not the charges of either Arson or Murder.
  • Double Subverted:
    • Had he plead not guilty, gone to trial, and been convicted, Bob would be facing a life sentence (or longer), or possibly execution.
    • The jurisdiction's court and bar association, however, is not fond of the prosecution's promise-breaking; the negotiated plea deal for Bob is re-instituted and the prosecutor is threatened with criminal charges of his own, which is then bargained down to essentially a disbarment and early retirement.
    • That would have been a felony charge, but now Bob is only charged with a misdemeanor.
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  • Parodied: After Bob enters his guilty plea, the judge calls him up to the bench, and gives him a literal slap on the wrist, saying he's free to go.
  • Zig Zagged: ???
  • Averted:
    • Pleading guilty does not change the sentence Bob faces.
    • Bob has not been arrested or charged with any crimes.
    • The court system in this setting does not do this.
  • Enforced: Eagleland Osmosis, Small Reference Pools, Hollywood Law, Truth in Television
  • Lampshaded: "If you plead guilty, you're looking at a maximum of five years in prison. If you choose to go to trial, and you are convicted, then you're looking at 25 years to life in prison. The choice is yours."
  • Invoked: Bob actually is guilty of the crime, and 'fesses up.
  • Exploited: Bob is hoping to get a lighter sentence, or even to get off scot-free.
  • Defied:
    • Bob maintains his innocence, or refuses to enter a plea, and goes through the trial process.
    • The judge rejects the bargain.
  • Discussed: Bob asks his defence lawyer if the judge will reduce his sentence if he pleads guilty, and if that's a wise course of action.
  • Conversed: Carol and Dave are watching a courtroom drama where the defendant is offered a plea bargain and argue over whether it's a potential miscarriage of justice.

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