Lawyers have lots of opinions about plea bargains. Many knowledgeable attorneys have different opinions about the plea process, what it means for the accused, and for the criminal justice system.
The Plea Bargain Process
One consequence of plea bargains is that a defendant waives her right to an appeal upon signing the agreement; any appeal from a plea-based conviction is discretionary and not a matter of procedural right. Once the conviction enters against the defendant in a plea, all other options are off-the-table.
“Prosecutors use plea bargains in a number of different ways,” says one criminal defense attorney from Waterford, MI. “For the most part, the prosecutor’s office has an incentive to avoid a lengthy and expensive trial, but they’re not always willing to budge on terms.”
In such an instance, the prosecutor may overcharge the defendant with a number of criminal offenses in order to entice a plea bargain. The prosecutor will often agree to reduce the charges to something they wanted in the first place, and still avoid the cost of a trial.
A plea bargain arrangement arises when the prosecutor has a weak aspect to their case. Sometimes, they do not charge weak counts at all. In other instances, they make the charge knowing there is room to negotiate with the defense lawyer.
This situation is complex to assess from the defense perspective. On the one hand, the weaker the state’s case, the more likely a plea bargain will be offered. On the other hand, if the prosecution’s case is weak enough to warrant a good plea deal, then why would the defense be inclined to take that deal with the possibility of a full acquittal at a trial?
The Cost of a Plea Bargain
“Defendants often get put in the impossible situation of bargaining for their lives,” says our Waterford criminal defense lawyer. “Anything can happen in front of a jury and if the jury says you’re guilty, then you’re convicted. Innocent people do get convicted so any trial is a big risk. The plea deal is often going to feel like the safest course of action, so even when the accused is innocent, he may end-up taking a plea deal because he is too afraid of the certain jail term that goes along with a jury conviction. Of course, that’s a terrible choice to have to make. It’s a difficult choice, and people are rightfully terrified of losing at trial.”
Plea bargains can happen at any point during the process up to trial. Many judges, however, add to the pressure by disallowing plea bargains on the scheduled date of trial.
When selecting a criminal defense lawyer, be sure to check out that lawyer’s trial track record. Not too many lawyers are skilled in actual trial and effective cross-examination. It is a skill set that requires a steady diet of trial work.
Clients also should be warned against criminal defense lawyers that simply plead out every case. If your lawyer is good, then he or she is always willing to prepare a case for trial. Good things often happen to the client of a well-prepared lawyer.
As is so often the case, according to our Waterford colleague, “this often comes down to a matter of money, because the most experienced lawyers are often the ones that can either leverage the prosecution into the best plea, or alternatively win in a jury trial if it comes down to that. Those lawyers come with the high price tag of freedom.”
We Can Help
Assessing whether to take a plea deal requires the client to think carefully about all of the facts in the case. Definitely speak to a competent criminal defense lawyer; a retained lawyer if you can afford the fee.
For our part, we offer a free consultation in such situations. Give our office a call to assess your options.