You have been charged with a crime and the situation you find yourself in can feel stressful and overwhelming. You are suddenly faced with being in the inside of a court room and maybe even a jail cell, meeting with a lawyer and hearing legal terms you may not be familiar with. Your life may be turned upside down all for something you may or may not have done.
On the positive side, your criminal defense attorney will be there to achieve the best possible results for you. The circumstances to determine the outcome of your case will usually involve being in front of a judge and possibly even being heard in front of a jury. While many outcomes of a criminal case have their outcomes decided this way, there are other times when a defendant is offered a plea bargain.
What is a plea bargain?
Prosecutors may offer you a plea bargain as a way for you to accept a sentence for the alleged crime that is more lenient than if you went to trial and was found guilty. Your acceptance means you are pleading guilty or no contest and accepting the stipulations of the agreement. A plea of no contest means you are not admitting that you are guilty, nor are you denying your guilt, you are just accepting the plea bargain.
Should you accept a plea bargain?
A plea bargain should not be taken lightly. There can be many factors in your case that may hinge on what benefits there would be to accept or not accept the deal. Here are things you should consider:
- What is in the offer? What is included in the actual offer will be the most important aspect of a plea deal. If the offer proposes significant amount of reduced jail time than what can come from a guilty verdict, this may be tempting to take if you have a young family at home.
- What does your lawyer say? Your criminal defense attorney should have the experience and knowledge to understand if the offer you are receiving is worth consideration. You should get as much advice as you can from your lawyer, however, the final decision to take the offer should be left to you.
- How fast do you want this over with? By taking a plea deal, you can move forward with completing your sentence and penalties immediately. Otherwise, the alternative may be a long trial that can be a strain on you, your family and friends. If your case has gathered any media attention, that may subside too if you do not move to a trial.
- Are you being coerced? You may be feeling pressure to accept the plea deal so the prosecution and law enforcement officers can get what they want, a guilty plea. Make sure your lawyer is watching and listening closely for any suspicious activity that may unduly influence your decision.
- What is your gut saying? Plea deals are effective when it looks like the evidence is stacked against you. However, a trial allows you to tell your side of the story and present information you may feel has not been considered. A plea bargain is balancing your belief in a guilty verdict and accepting a reduced sentence immediately or electing to prove your innocence at the risk of a harsher sentence if you are found guilty.
Being accused of a serious crime and having to defend yourself in court can be a scary situation. Smart decision making through the whole process will be very important. One of the most crucial decisions you may have to make is deciding on accepting a plea bargain if one is offered. The consequences of this one decision can have wide-reaching effects on your future.