You’ve been charged with a crime, and now you are being offered a plea deal. Should you take it?
Roughly 98% of criminal cases at the federal level are resolved through plea bargaining, and it isn’t much different in state courts – but accepting a plea deal is still something you have to consider very carefully.
What are the benefits of a plea bargain?
There are positives to a plea deal on both sides of the legal fence. One of the most significant advantages of a plea deal is the potential for reduced charges or sentences. If a prosecutor offers to drop a felony down to a misdemeanor, for example, that may be very attractive.
Similarly, the offer of a lenient sentencing recommendation can be a strong incentive to take a deal, since trials are unpredictable and outcomes are always uncertain. A lot of defendants worry (rightfully so) about the so-called “trial tax” that can come by forcing a trial. Prosecutors have been known to pile on additional charges when someone rejects a plea deal that’s been proffered to them – and judges sometimes impose stiffer punishments when a trial ends in conviction. Accepting a plea deal provides you with a clear and mostly guaranteed outcome.
For prosecutors, plea deals are simply an issue of efficiency. Every plea bargain is a guaranteed conviction on their record, without having to put time and money into a trial.
What are the drawbacks of a plea bargain?
One of the most significant drawbacks is that defendants who are actually innocent often feel pressured to accept a plea deal to avoid the risk of a longer sentence if found guilty at trial. That’s something that should never happen. Even with a favorable plea deal, defendants usually end up with a criminal record that can affect their future employment, housing, reputation and more. That’s a particularly high price to pay when you’re innocent.
It’s scary to be charged with a crime. You get thrown into a legal system that seems vastly impersonal, where everything that happens has profoundly personal consequences for you. Seeking qualified legal guidance can help you consider all your defense options. For some people, a plea deal makes sense, but they’re not right for everybody or every situation.