When should you take a plea deal in a criminal case? That is the million dollar question that always gets asked by a client when offered any sort of plea deal in their criminal matter. Accepting a plea deal is not always an easy decision due to many factors and consequences I cannot even begin to write about in a blog post. As a Seattle Criminal Defense Attorney here are several factors one should consider in deciding whether to take a plea deal in a criminal matter.
Does the plea deal have a benefit?
Is there some kind of benefit for the accused to accept their plea deal and forever change their life? Meaning are they getting something in return. For example, if the criminal charge is being lowered to a lesser offense that carries less jail, fines, and other conditions then that is a benefit. Another example is if the plea deal involves a dismissal of the charge after the accused completes some conditions laid out in the plea agreement.
Now a benefit doesn’t have to be a reduction in charges or a complete dismissal, which is obviously great. It can be an agreement for less jail and fines. In most felony cases there is a certain sentencing range that can be imposed by a Judge depending on the past criminal record and the type of criminal offense involved. A plea deal could be a guilty plea as charged but the Prosecutor would recommend to the Judge the low end of the jail sentence. In some cases, this could reduce the amount of jail served by months and even years.
Does the plea deal outweigh the risk of a trial?
In many cases, there is a reason the Prosecutor is offering a plea deal. This could mean there is some legal or proof issue involved in the case and rather than risk going to trial and losing the Prosecutor simply will offer a plea deal to the accused. A plea deal can also be offered when the Prosecutor doesn’t have any proof or legal issues and simply because the accused has no prior criminal history and obviously made a one time mistake.
But if there is a good chance of acquittal if the criminal case were to go to trial then that is obviously something that needs to be considered. A jury trial is a risky move when there is a plea deal on the table to a lesser charge, complete dismissal, or even a sentence recommendation on the low end of the jail. Anything can happen at a jury trial and as a Seattle Criminal Defense Attorney, there certainly have been times in my career where I thought my client stood an excellent chance of being found not guilty and the jury returned a guilty verdict. And visa-versa there have been times when I thought there was no way the jury would return a not guilty verdict and they surprised me and did just that. Which brings me to my next factor to consider.
Does your Criminal Defense Attorney recommend the plea deal
If you get charged with a criminal offense and you hire a Criminal Defense Attorney to represent you then it makes sense you should listen to that Attorney’s advice. After all, that is why you’re paying them. In most cases, a Criminal Defense Attorney will give an honest assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of a case if it were to go to trial (At least in theory they should), and if that Criminal Defense Attorney is saying hey I think this is a good deal, there are obvious benefits to accepting it, then you should listen to that advice and factor it into your decision. Which as the accused or defendant is always your right.