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Boulder Plea Bargains: A Shortcut to Justice or a Detour from Fairness?

A pair of large tree nymph butterflies, generally black patterned on a white/bone background. this pair is mirroring each other, and NOT photo shopped. the light purple/pink flowers set off the butterflies.

A pair of “large tree nymph” butterflies. Photo Lenny Lensworth Frieling

Is Plea Bargain a Dirty Word? Is the Negotiation Balanced Like these Butterflies?

Plea bargains are misunderstood and inappropriately denigrated by some defendants.

Boulder courts, as well as courts across the United States, plea bargaining is a fundamental part of resolving criminal cases. In Colorado’s criminal courts, plea bargains are commonly used to settle cases without proceeding to trial. Consider that only about 4% of all cases go to trial, either before a jury or as a bench trial. A small percentage of cases are dismissed outright, and sometimes charges are avoided entirely. But what about the remaining 85-90% of criminal cases? They are typically resolved through plea bargains. The perception of plea bargains can vary: what is considered an excellent agreement in one case might be seen as disadvantageous in another. For instance, in cases where prison time is a significant risk, especially with a mandatory minimum sentence, a plea bargain that removes prison as an option might be highly favorable.

man in white t-shirt standing in front of window

The decision to offer a plea bargain lies solely with the prosecutor (deputy district attorney), who also decides the terms of the offer. These can range from a sentence cap to a “delayed dismissal,” known as a “deferred sentence.”   Then if you complete the terms of the deferred sentence, the case against you is dismissed with no conviction.The defense attorney’s role is to advise whether a plea bargain is suitable and, if so, what it must entail. However, only the defendant can make the final decision to accept or reject the offer. The “rules” applied to determining whether or not a deferred sentence will be offered varies with the county.

While lawyers can legally exert substantial pressure on their clients to accept a deal, ultimately, only the client can make the decision as to taking or rejecting a plea bargain offer from the DDA. This pressure may stem from the belief that rejecting the deal could lead to a worse outcome. It’s crucial to remember that the ability to accept a loss is as important as the ability to win in this ‘game.’

a 3d image of a judge's hammer on a black background

Although the judge cannot offer a plea bargain, their approval is necessary. The proposed plea bargain, agreed upon by both the prosecutor and defense attorney, must be accepted or rejected by the judge. A rejection often implies that the defense attorney negotiated too effectively.

Photo Lenny Lensworth Frieling

Does a Deal Let You Fly Free While Avoiding Jail?

Is a Plea Bargain Appropriate for Your Case?

Deciding whether to accept a plea bargain in a criminal case involves weighing potential pros and cons, which vary in each situation. It’s a critical decision that should be made after considering all options, including pleading not guilty and going to trial. A plea deal may not always be the most advantageous choice for a defendant. Trust in your lawyer is essential, as you’ll depend on their advice to decide whether to accept a specific plea offer.

In certain situations, a plea bargain might be your best option. It’s important to carefully consider the benefits and drawbacks of a plea bargain with your criminal defense attorney before deciding. While it may reduce the penalties you face, a plea bargain can still have lasting impacts on your life and future.

Stay safe and work closely with your lawyer. Once you’ve chosen an attorney, trust in that decision and focus on fighting your case.  Aim to stay out of jail, collaborate with your lawyer, and enjoy the great State and City we call “home.”

Longs Peak viewed from Lafayette Photo Lenny Lensworth Frieling

Best regards!

Lenny Lensworth Frieling


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