You may be thinking that pleading guilty to your criminal charges will win you favor with a judge. That if you just admit to your crimes, you're doing the right thing. This is rarely the case. An initial guilty plea can actually do the opposite and prevent you from receiving lesser sentencing or from getting the charges dropped altogether. A criminal defense lawyer can advise you on what plea strategy is best for you and will work with you to get the best deal for your case.
How Do Plea Deals Work?
You've probably seen examples on television of someone getting their charges significantly reduced for pleading guilty. That is an example of a plea deal. Otherwise known as a plea bargain or plea negotiation, a plea deal is an agreement between the prosecutor and the defense in which the defendant pleads guilty to at least one charge, and in exchange the state drops or reduces the other charges or a gives a lesser penalty.
You come out with a lesser charge or community service instead of jail time. Sounds great, right? So what's in it for the state? Why are they willing to help you? It helps them too. Coming to a plea agreement with you saves the court time and money by avoiding a trial.
When is Pleading Guilty the Right Choice?
Pleading guilty can be the right choice when a plea deal is on the table. In your arraignment, which is one of your first court dates, a judge will ask you to enter an initial plea, it is never the best choice to plead guilty. If you plead innocent in your arraignment, you have the opportunity to change your plea at a later date. An initial innocent plea will also allow you the chance to have a lawyer review the evidence and help you build a better case to avoid the maximum penalty.
Disadvantages of Taking a Plea Deal
While a plea bargain can help a person avoid a trial, that can also be a drawback, especially if you are innocent. It's important to remember that you have a right to a jury trial and that in American courts you are "innocent until proven guilty." Entering a plea deal takes away your opportunity to argue your case and let a jury decide your verdict.
If you are a first-time offender, you may be eligible for a diversion program. A diversion program is pretrial sentencing in which a trial can be avoided if the defendant enters a rehabilitation program designed to help prevent future crimes. Diversion programs can sometimes help you avoid a conviction or a criminal record altogether. These programs are not available if you take a plea deal. Contact a defense lawyer to see if your case may be eligible.
Learn More: What is Pretrial Intervention
Speak to an Attorney Before Accepting Any Plea Bargains
You should always seek legal advice from a criminal defense attorney before accepting a plea bargain. An attorney will be able to review all evidence to determine the strength of the prosecutor's case. Perhaps a police officer mishandled evidence or you were unlawfully searched, maybe correct protocol was ignored in your arrest, or perhaps there just isn't enough evidence against you. Any number of errors in your court process could help you receive a lesser punishment.
An attorney will work in your best interest to help you reduce your criminal charges, receive a lesser jail sentence, avoid fines, and/or get your charges dropped altogether. Their job is to help you build a strong defense to receive the best deal possible, which the state may not offer you in an initial plea bargain. It's a negotiation for a reason, both sides working together to reach an agreement. At TF Law we work hard to get you the best possible results and we enjoy doing it. Contact us today to start your defense.