Plea bargains are an important part of the American criminal justice system and are used in all sorts of situations to move a criminal case quickly through the system.
In fact, it's estimated that 97% of federal criminal cases and 94% of cases at the state level end in a plea deal. For prosecutors, a plea deal is always a "win" because the defendant is accepting his or her guilt in exchange for what is, presumably, a lighter sentence. The government gets to avoid the expense of a trial and the court docket doesn't get any heavier because there's no trial.
However, is a plea deal really best for you if you're facing charges? Maybe not. Here are a few things you should consider before you agree to a plea.
What are you really getting?
Just because you're being offered a plea doesn't automatically mean you're getting a good deal. The prosecution wants to avoid a trial and get another conviction, but that doesn't mean he or she is actually motivated to give you a bargain.
Some people mistakenly believe that the first offer they get is likely to be the prosecution's best offer, but that's seldom how skilled negotiations work. If you've ever watched a buyer and seller haggle over a sale, you know that both people start out trying to get their ideal price -- or even slightly better. It usually takes a few back-and-forth rounds before they meet somewhere in the middle. The odds are high that the prosecutor offered you what he or she hoped you would take -- not what he or she will ultimately accept after negotiations.
Is accepting a deal really even a good idea?
Being charged with any crime is stressful, but don't let your anxiety drive you. Remember, the prosecutors are not your friends. They are not offering you a deal to be kind. They are offering you a deal because it suits their interests.
If you are innocent, if the case against you is weak, if there are problems with the evidence or witnesses, you may be doing yourself a great disservice by accepting a plea. There are collateral consequences to any guilty plea, even if you don't go to prison. You will have a criminal conviction on your record from this point forward, and that could affect your future job prospects, relationships, ability to obtain loans, and more.
Have you even talked to a defense attorney?
Unless you've fully discussed your case and the evidence against you with a criminal defense attorney, you shouldn't accept a plea. While public defenders do their best, the reality is that most of them are ill-equipped to consider every case in great detail. They're given a tremendous number of cases to handle at once and must often make a lot of quick judgment calls -- ones that don't necessarily benefit defendants.
You owe it to your future to consider any plea carefully -- but that means really looking at what you're getting and what consequences it will have for you. It also means thinking about what kind of case you can make if you go to trial instead. For more advice specific to your situation, talk to a criminal defense firm, like Maruca Law, today.