When you are writing any story involving a court case, especially a criminal case, it is enhanced by including a drama between the prosecutor and defense attorney called plea bargaining. This is high stakes poker in the legal profession. It pits lawyer against lawyer, hiding and showing their hands to get the best deal they can.

What Is a Plea Bargain?

Less than 10% of criminal cases go to trial. The others are either dropped or negotiated. This process of negotiating, plea bargaining, is so prevalent—and controversial—in the judicial system, portraying it accurately and realistically is almost mandatory to a story’s credibility.

A plea deal is the outcome of a prosecutor and the defense attorney bargaining for a reduced charge or reduced sentence in exchange for a guilty plea and no trial. There are as many reasons for a defendant to plead guilty as there are defendants. Usually, the reasons for a prosecutor are more mundane. Dockets are overwhelmed, budgets are tight, and sometimes victims are ready for it to all be over.

The Timing of the Offer

The circumstances under which a lawyer offers a plea bargain may be determined by the perceived strength of the case and the most likely projected outcome. Negotiations usually take place after the evidence is collected and the theories of the case are developed. Maybe the evidence isn’t as strong as the prosecutor would like to ensure a conviction at trial. No reason to show that card yet, though. Overcharging for the actual crime committed is a tool to threaten the defendant and extract a guilty plea. Is this abuse? The defense lawyer would say so—if the truth was known. Convictions are notches in an ambitious prosecutor’s belt. Plea bargaining adds those notches more quickly. But hast leads to lazy investigations, wrongful convictions, and letting the real criminals remain free.

The Plea Is the Story

Describing the plea bargain can develop characters through showing not telling. Not all defense lawyers are altruistic defenders of the accused. Not all prosecutors see doing justice as anything more than eradicating vermin. Expedience then becomes the better part of discretion.

Including the plea bargain in the story’s writing with its ins and outs, its “what ifs” of possible trade-offs, exposes not only the personalities of the actors—it also tells the story.

Writing court cases may seem intimidating at first, especially plea bargains. However, if you are able to understand the ins and outs of the legal process, then you will be able to write a compelling story. Also, don’t be afraid to dive into the gritty details, even if things don’t seem so black-and-white afterward.

Looking for more advice on how to write legal documents? Check out: What to Know About Writing Trials

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