Plea Bargain Or Trial

Defendants typically face two options in criminal court; plea bargain or trial.

Should defendants take a case to trial to compel the state to prove its case against them beyond a reasonable doubt or should they plead guilty to a downgraded or even the original charge?

The answer usually is that Defendants should go to trial only if they must.

So when must defendants take a case to trial?

There are generally two occasions when defendants must take a case to trial.

The first occasion is when they are innocent and the prosecutor is refusing to dismiss the charges against them and the Judge denied their motion for dismissal.

The second occasion is when the prosecutor is not offering a plea deal at all.

For example, the option of plea bargain or trial is not even available in notorious cases that make the newspapers and the prosecution wants to make an example out of the defendant.

A charge of murdering a spouse pursuant to a domestic violence incident, for instance, is unlikely to be negotiated by the prosecutor.

There simply will not be an option of plea bargain or trial in such a case.

Such a charge must go to trial unless the defendant simply wants to give up without a fight and plead guilty as charged.

If, however, a defendant is going down he may as well go down fighting, but that is a decision reserved for a defendant to make.

Statistically, government prosecution wins an overwhelming majority of their cases at trial so it is not in a defendant's best interest to go to trial on a criminal charge.

On the other hand, the prosecution is also aware that if every case before them has to go to trial then the whole system will collapse, because there is simply not enough time and resources available to have a trial on every case.

Also, the plea bargaining process assures the State a conviction without the necessity of a time consuming and expensive trial.

Hence, defendants in criminal court generally have two options, either to plea or go to trial.

What are defendant's trial rights?

Defendants are cloaked with the presumption of innocence.

Defendants have the right to cross examine witnesses produced against them and can only be convicted upon proof presented beyond a reasonable doubt.

Defendants may elect whether they wish to testify on their own behalf or remain silent so not to incriminate themselves

If they elect not to testify on their own behalf the jury may be instructed not to permit this fact to enter into deliberations.

A defendant, if incarcerated, should not ordinarily be compelled to appear for trial in prison uniform or handcuffs because he may be prejudiced that way in the eyes of the jurors.

Since defendants only have the two options of plea bargain or trial, what is a plea bargain?

A plea bargain is an admission of guilt to the original charge, or more often than not to a downgraded charge.

Typically, a plea bargain is a contract entered into by the State/Prosecution with defense counsel on behalf of his or her client whereby the State procures a guilty plea typically to a downgraded charge while the defendant avoids serious consequences of the crime to which he or she would be exposed should the matter proceed to trial and he or she lose.

Usually, the serious consequences that defendants avoid through the plea bargaining process with the help of their attorney are incarceration and/or the stigma of a criminal conviction.

Defendants recognize that in the event of a trial the State wins their cases much more often than not.

Besides, not having a trial would save a defendant a considerable expense while considerably reducing and perhaps even eliminating the prospect of incarceration or even the stigma of a criminal conviction.

What are the different types of plea agreements?

There are three different types enumerated as follows:

1. guilty plea to one charge while the remaining charges are dismissed;

2. recommendation by the prosecutor for a particular sentence in consideration of defendant's guilty plea;

3. agreement in which defendant pleads guilty to a lesser offense.

Bear in mind that a Court has discretion to reject any given plea agreement and when the Court exercises such discretion the parties may negotiate a new plea agreement that may better satisfy the Court, or proceed to trial.

Click here if you wish to discuss further whether you should plea bargain or trial.