Criminal Procedures

The Criminal Process

Does a judge have to accept a plea bargain and give the defendant the sentence offered by the prosecution?

No, a judge does not have to accept a plea bargain reached between the prosecution and the defense. The U.S. Supreme Court wrote in Santobello v. New York (1971; see LegalSpeak p. 160) that: “There is, of course, no absolute right to have a guilty plea accepted.” The Nevada Supreme Court explained in a recent case: “Judicial power to reject plea bargains serves to modify and condition the absolute power of the prosecutor, consistent with the doctrine of separation of powers, by establishing a check on the abuse of prosecutorial (executive) prerogatives.” However, as a matter of course, judges most of the time accept plea bargains. Courts ordinarily do not second-guess prosecutorial decisions in the plea-bargaining process.


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