In Texas, prosecutors are granted wide discretion to make plea bargains in cases. This includes offering a sentence in the range of punishment, reducing a charge, or dismissing a case in exchange for certain action on the defendant’s behalf. If a person wishes to plead guilty and does not want to risk allowing a judge or jury to make the sentencing decision, a plea bargain is often the best way to resolve a criminal case.
Sentence-based Plea Bargains
The most common type of plea bargain is a plea bargain for a sentence within the range of punishment. For example, first-time DWI in Texas carries a range of punishment from probation up to 180 days in jail and a fine of up to $2,000. Two common plea bargains in DWI cases are probation of a fixed term (e.g., one year probation) and with certain conditions (e.g., community service, fines, etc.) or a “time-served” plea bargain. In a time-served plea bargain, a person pleads guilty, but does not serve any additional jail time and is not on probation. In the case of DWI in Harris County, not every court will permit time-served plea bargains.
Reduction Plea Bargains
A reduction plea bargain is a plea bargain in which the state agrees to allow a person to plead guilty to a reduced charge. For example, if a defendant is charged with assault on a family member by choking (a third degree felony), the prosecutor, under certain circumstances, may permit that defendant to plead guilty to class A misdemeanor assault on a family member. As a result, in this example, the defendant would not have a felony conviction on his or her record. Whether the state will agree to reduce a charge depends entirely on the facts and circumstances of the case and the defendant’s background.
A qualified dismissal is not a plea bargain in the traditional sense because there is no plea. In certain circumstances, typically those in which the evidence against a defendant is weak, but not so weak that the state thinks it has no case, a prosecutor may agree to dismiss a case if the defendant performs certain actions – completion of a drug class, community service, letters of apology, etc. This is case and defendant-specific, and is a much less common than sentence-based and reduction plea bargains. In Harris County, having an experienced Houston criminal attorney offers a defendant the best chance of receiving a favorable plea bargain.