By Law Office of A. Oliver Hassibi
November 5, 2015
Criminal courts are, in general, overworked and understaffed. There are too many cases to take to trial, and both judges and prosecutors actively seek to push as many cases through the criminal process as possible. Plea bargains are a way they accomplish that goal. By giving you incentives to pleading guilty early, prosecutors and judges save the court a massive amount of resources.
Plea bargains resolve criminal cases in a matter of minutes, rather than the weeks and months that one would have to wait for a trial. As a result, they help prosecutors clear their workload and preserve their budget. But do plea bargains serve you, as the defendant?
Plea bargains provide defendants with options outside of a trial by judge or jury. Many plea bargains offer a lighter sentence or a lesser charge in exchange for a guilty plea. For example, a common plea bargain offered to DWI defendants is a reduction of the DWI charge to something called “Obstruction of a Highway” if they choose to plead guilty. This also protects them from harsher consequences for later convictions.
Reasons you may want a plea bargain include:
Socially-stigmatized charges (including sexual assault or other sex crimes) can sometimes be lowered to less-damaging charges in plea bargains, offering defendants the chance to salvage their reputation more easily and avoiding the very difficult requirement to register as a sex offender. If you are facing conviction for a major crime and the evidence is strongly stacked against you, a plea bargain will provide a way for you to control the outcome more than a trial would allow. You could negotiate a shorter prison sentence or a less damaging conviction on your record, or possibly probation rather than doing time.
In addition, plea bargains are inexpensive compared to a trial. Your attorney’s fees will be significantly lower due to the reduced time it takes to negotiate a plea bargain versus your attorney having to prepare for and navigating a long and drawn-out trial. In fact, most cases are negotiated by criminal defense lawyers in the form of plea bargains.
There’s another reason the prosecution may offer a generous plea bargain—they may be unsure of their ability to convict you. If you accept a plea bargain without considering the evidence against you, you may be giving up on a case that is in your favor. Many prosecutors are under pressure to ensure convictions under any condition, so they may give you a significantly lighter conviction because the alternative could be a not-guilty verdict. It may be a sign of a weak case against you.
Ultimately, you ought to remember that the prosecutor’s job is not to work in your favor. They are not your friend or advocate, and even the most generous offer is not for your sake. Their job description is to convict you through any legal means necessary. The only person who would have your interests at heart without any incentive for accepting a quick resolution is a private criminal defense attorney with a proven record of experience and genuine concern for the well-being of his clients.
Whether or not you should accept a plea bargain depends on your case and the evidence compiled against you. If the evidence is weak and the case is flimsy, a plea bargain might be a ploy to get you to admit guilt unnecessarily. If the evidence is strong, a plea bargain might be your only way out of an even harsher conviction, massive fines, or lasting consequences.
How do you determine if the evidence against you is strong? Without extensive legal training and experience, it will be impossible for you to evaluate it alone. That is why hiring a Fort Worth criminal defense lawyer is crucial to your case. A legal advocate can fight for your best interests by using their insight to judge your case and give you the best advice on how to move forward. Your lawyer can fully inform you of all the factors of your case and all of the options available to you, allowing you to make the best possible decision for your unique situation.
For legal experience to guide you in your criminal case, contact the Law Office of A. Oliver Hassibi.