Should you accept a plea bargain?

Posted by Aaron D. Lawrence | May 16, 2022 | 0 Comments

Should I Take a Plea Bargain

A plea offer is a suggestion, usually from the prosecutor, for a deal in which the state gets to save the time and resources required to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury, and a defendant gets to save themselves the concern associated with not knowing what their sentence will be.

A plea offer is normally put forward after arraignment, but still early in discovery. Similar to the opening bet in a hand of poker, a defendant and their attorney can infer the prosecutor's feelings regarding the strength of the case. Though each case is different, some general considerations may be helpful when determining whether you should take a plea deal. It is rarely a simple decision. 

First, remember plea bargains are not necessarily a bad thing. Numbers don't lie. Most cases (over 90% in most jurisdictions) are resolved by plea. This is typically the best resolution when a fair offer is presented. A jury trial carries with it an uncertainty that most people, including prosecutors, cannot tolerate. The main reason a defendant takes a plea deal is to limit risk. Once a plea is accepted, the agreed punishment and protection from double jeopardy are locked in. Nothing worse can happen. Naturally, nothing better can happen either.  

The downside of a guilty plea is an acquittal or better deal is forever taken out of the equation. Nevertheless, if the offer is a “bargain”, then accepting the offer makes sense. The real trick is determining whether the offer proposed is actually a "bargain". This requires a dedicated and experienced criminal defense attorney.

In deciding how beneficial the plea offer would be, a defendant (hopefully with the help of their attorney) should consider if the result would be better than what a jury or judge would typically dish out. In determining what a jury or judge would do, the criminal lawyer should weigh three things: 1) the strength of the State's case, 2) the background of the accused, and 3) the full implications of the sentence.

If the State's case is weak and a conviction will be difficult, a “bargain” will likely require a substantial reduction in punishment, this may include a full or partial suspension of jail time or a reduction in charges. If the State's case is so weak that convincing a jury is unlikely, a guilty plea is never a "bargain". (A lawyer who has tried a substantial number of cases will know If evidence is lacking, and whether dismissal is the only acceptable resolution.)

Conversely, if the State's case is strong then an involving greater punishment may still be reasonable. If a prosecutor feels he can't possibly lose the case, then I try to leverage the size of the prosecutor's docket and entice them by reminding them how much time and resources trials take when my client is willing to plea. 

The background of the accused matters. Prior convictions may change the punishment range and take probation off the table. A defendant who has spent time in prison can expect to be sentenced to more time for each subsequent conviction. 

If the accused has no criminal record and has developed relationships with solid members of the community, either through family, associations or employment, this can be presented to the jury and will typically weigh in the defendant's favor. Sometimes this information can be presented by the defense in the guilt portion of the trial. (Sometimes this information alone convinces the prosecution to offer less punishment, or even dismissal.)

The full implication of any punishment should always be explained to a defendant by their attorney. If you still have questions, you need to find time to ask them and have them answered to your full satisfaction. Some charges may involve registration, some will require a higher percentage of a jail sentence be served. These are important factors in considering a plea offer.

All of this information must be weighed by the defense attorney in determining what risk his client would be facing in the event of a jury trial. A criminal lawyer with extensive trial experience is best capable of making this assessment. In a vacuum, the decision should be simple. If the offer is not better than what the defense attorney believes the jury or judge is likely to impose, including acquittal, then he should advise his client to proceed to trial. If the offer is better than what he would expect the jury or judge to impose, the offer should be accepted. However, in practice the decision is not so easy. 

In making your decision, you might want to ask a different question. Do you trust your criminal lawyer's experience and dedication? Do you believe he has your best interest at heart? Has he explained to you his reasoning for his advice? Do you trust him?  If so, you should take his counsel. You don't want to be asking a different question ten years from now and wonder why you didn't take your lawyer's advice in the first place. 

If you are facing any of these questions call Lawrence Law Firm and get the legal help you need!

The blog published by Lawrence Law Firm is available for informational purposes only and is not considered legal advice on any subject matter. By viewing blog posts, the reader understands there is no attorney-client relationship between the reader and the blog publisher. The blog should not be used as a substitute for legal advice from a licensed professional attorney, and readers are urged to consult their own legal counsel on any specific legal questions concerning a specific situation.

About the Author

Aaron D. Lawrence

Aaron is a Criminal Defense and Personal Injury Attorney in Ruston, Louisiana. He received his Juris Doctor and Graduate Diploma in Comparative Law from the Louisiana State University Paul M. Hebert Law Center. He received his Bachelor of Applied Arts and Sciences from the University of North Tex...


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