What Are the 3 Types of Plea Bargains in Criminal Defense?

In criminal law, plea bargaining plays a pivotal role, often influencing the outcome of criminal cases. Criminal defense attorneys employ various strategies to secure the best possible outcome for their clients, and one such strategy involves plea bargains. 

We will look into the three primary types of plea bargains and shed light on their significance in criminal defense.

Types of Plea Bargains

1. Charge Bargaining

Charge bargaining is perhaps the most common type of plea bargain in criminal law. In this negotiation, the defendant agrees to plead guilty to a lesser charge than the one originally filed by the prosecutor. This reduction in charges can have a significant impact on the potential penalties and consequences the defendant may face.

For example, if a defendant is originally charged with a serious drug offense such as drug trafficking, their drug charge defense attorney may engage in charge bargaining to have the charges reduced to a possession charge. By doing so, the defendant might avoid the harsh sentences associated with trafficking convictions.

2. Sentence Bargaining

Sentence bargaining focuses on negotiating the length or severity of the sentence that a defendant will receive upon pleading guilty. In this type of plea bargain, the defendant agrees to plead guilty to the original charges, but the defense attorney works to secure a more favorable sentence. This could involve reducing prison time, probation, or seeking alternative sentencing options.

For instance, if a defendant is facing a potential 10-year prison sentence for a drug-related offense, sentence bargaining might result in a reduced sentence of 5 years with the possibility of parole. This negotiation can significantly impact the defendant’s future and the consequences of their criminal convicti 


3. Fact Bargaining

Fact bargaining is a less common but is an equally important type of plea bargain. In this negotiation, the defendant agrees to plead guilty to the original charges but disputes or negotiates specific facts or elements of the case. Fact bargaining often involves the prosecution and defense reaching an agreement on key facts that can affect the outcome of the criminal trial.

For instance, in a case of assault, the defendant might agree to plead guilty but negotiate the extent of their involvement or the severity of the injuries caused with the help of an assault lawyer. This can result in a more accurate representation of the defendant’s actions and potential leniency in sentencing.

The Role of a Criminal Defense Attorney

Criminal defense attorneys play a crucial role in the plea bargaining process. Their expertise in criminal law and negotiation skills are instrumental in securing the best possible plea deals for their clients. A skilled criminal defense attorney will carefully assess the details of the case, evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the prosecution’s evidence, and advocate on behalf of the defendant throughout the bargaining process.


Understanding the three primary types of plea bargains – charge bargaining, sentence bargaining, and fact bargaining – is essential for defendants and their legal representatives. These negotiations can significantly impact the outcome of a criminal case, potentially reducing charges, sentences, and the long-term consequences of a criminal conviction.

If you or a loved one is facing criminal charges, it’s essential to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney.