Many imagine being accused of a crime as a lonely suspect are thrown in a cell with no discussion. Or they see a TV courtroom with surprise confessions on the witness stand and a judge who always seems to “allow” everything “this time.”

The truth is that most cases end in plea bargains. Judges and prosecutors often prefer them, and defendants backed by an experienced defense attorney sometimes get better outcomes than they had imagined possible when they were arrested.

Why some defendants consider a plea bargain

Pleas happen because everybody and every situation is different. A lot of variables can go into whether or not to negotiate and strike a bargain.

First, it can be less risky to decide things up front. When you agree to a plea bargain, you should know exactly what you’re agreeing to and what will happen, presuming you can hold up your end of the bargain.

Pleas happen because judges typically see things their own way and might throw everyone a curve ball in court. Also, besides eating up a lot of time and money, jury trials can be unpredictable. For example, even though everyone expects the jury to fall in love with them defendant, it may end up slapping the defendant with every guilty verdict it can. Or vice versa.

Also, pleas happen because the accused often must sit in prison for the duration of a trial. And trials can spark unwanted publicity for reasons that may be hard to predict.

Some big changes can come with plea agreements

Plea-bargaining is the only process where certain kinds of magic become more likely. It also allows a degree of originality and imagination to fit the needs of both prosecutors and the defendant.

A plea bargain may be able reduce your charges, perhaps turning a felony into a misdemeanor. Seriously “aggravating” circumstances might be made to disappear in favor of the standard (presumptive) charge. By pleading guilty to one charge, another might be dismissed completely.

A sentencing plea bargain may also be able to shorten your prison term and/or your probation, reduce your fine or involve other provisions such as monitoring and treatment.