A plea bargain is one of the ways your criminal case may resolve. While it’s not always the ideal outcome in terms of the consequences you may face for your criminal charges, it is sometimes the smartest path to take, especially if you and your lawyer determine that you have few other options.
A plea bargain usually requires you to plead guilty to a crime, even if it wasn’t the one you were initially charged with. You do this to have your charges reduced to something less serious. You then serve the smaller sentence associated with the less-serious crime. You still receive a criminal conviction and a criminal record.
You should never take a plea bargain without consulting with your attorney! You should also ask yourself the following questions.
Is this actually a good deal?
Some plea bargains come with a stipulation that you must waive your right to ever challenge your conviction or your sentence. This is a dangerous deal to take, especially if you know in your heart of hearts you’re being wrongfully convicted.
How thoroughly did your own attorney negotiate the terms of the plea bargain? Will the terms actually help you? A pretrial diversion might be an excellent plea bargain. A bargain that takes a felony and shifts it down to a misdemeanor might be an excellent bargain.
What are you being asked to give up, and what are you getting in return?
Are you being coerced?
Prosecutors often try to coerce defendants into taking a plea bargain.
- They manage to block pretrial release, wearing a defendant down with jail time long before they secure a criminal conviction, and find ways to delay the trial to make this time longer and longer; at times as much as 12 months or more.
- They threaten to seek out harsher penalties if the defendant exercises their right to a trial, such as jail time.
- Are prosecutors withholding evidence which could make it difficult for your defense lawyer to prosecute your case?
Coercion may provide you with powerful incentives to take a plea deal, but you should at least be aware you are being coerced.
How strong is your case?
If you know you are factually guilty and you know the prosecution can probably prove it then it might be wise to consider a plea deal.
If you know the prosecution’s case is weak then you might need to stay strong. Talk to your attorney. Is your attorney satisfied that the prosecutor has complied with the laws of discovery, hiding no evidence? Does your attorney feel you have sufficient exculpatory evidence to win your case?
Remember in many cases taking a plea bargain means going to jail anyway. It might mean going to jail for longer, but if you have a strong case it may still be worthwhile to take your shot and go to trial.
How much of a sentence have you already served?
Pretrial detention can go on for so long that you might well serve your sentence even before you are offered a bargain. If you’ve been in prison for 14 months and the plea deal says that it will take all your time served as your sentence and then send you home, then the plea deal might be a great plan.
While your life will still be complicated by the arrest and conviction, there could be a good chance that the damage is already done. Taking a deal could get you back to your home and family faster, and there are ways to pick up the pieces.
What does your lawyer say?
If you have a public defender, that lawyer may well try to push a plea deal. It’s the quick and dirty resolution and they have more cases than you can handle. You’ll have to make your own decisions under those circumstances.
If you have a private criminal defense lawyer, then you can really start weighing your options. There are times when plea deals are smart and there are times when the terms are fair, but you can only make that determination if you are working with an attorney who has the time and energy to put your best interests first.
If you’re in trouble, don’t sign on the dotted line until you talk to us. Contact our office to schedule a case review today.
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