Elder Law Attorney
Being charged with a crime can be the most stressful event of a person’s life. Then, being faced with a decision to accept a plea bargain or go to trial can be one of the most difficult decisions of a person’s life to consider with their criminal lawyer. Here is some advice that might help you decide what is right for you:
- Figure out if there is an actual benefit associated with taking the plea bargain.
If you’re going to take a plea bargain, it needs to be because there is a real, tangible benefit to the bargain. For example, if the prosecutor’s offer is to enter a plea to the charged crime, and they will give you a sentence bargain for no jail, that may or may not be an offer with a real benefit. If the judge is likely to put you in jail without the sentence bargain, then there is a real benefit there. If the judge likely wouldn’t put you in jail if you were convicted after a trial, there’s no benefit at all to that plea bargain. Your attorney is likely to have a pretty good idea of what the judge will do if they regularly practice in front of that judge. Talk to your attorney, and try to figure out if there really is a benefit to the bargain.
- Think long-term.
The stress of having a criminal case hanging over your head can be excruciating. The longer the case drags on, the easier it is to feel like just taking the deal in order to get the case over with is a good idea. It’s not. Don’t accept a deal merely because you want the case over with. You’ll definitely regret that later. Ending short term anxiety is not a good reason to take a plea offer that could have an impact on you for a long, long time.
- Examine your risk tolerance.
Plea bargains are often about the economics of risk. You have to balance factors like the consequences of taking the plea offer and the consequences of losing at trial with the amount of risk you are willing to tolerate. Some plea offers are no-brainers. For example, if you are charged with a life-offense felony, and the prosecutor offers a minor misdemeanor with probation, it’s tough to turn an offer like that down, because it eliminates such a high amount of risk. Most offers aren’t that simple to evaluate, however. Your attorney can guide you in explaining the risks of each choice – the consequences of the plea bargain and the consequences of a trial loss. You have to hold those things up against the benefit of winning at trial, as well as the chances that you will be able to win the trial. Only you can truly have an understanding of your tolerance for the risk, and only you get to decide whether you take the plea or go forward to trial. One good question to ask yourself is, “If I lose the trial, will I regret having not taken the plea?” If the answer is yes, then you probably need to strongly consider accepting the plea offer.
Remember though, that the choice is always in your hands. Don’t let anyone – your attorney, your spouse, your parents – pressure you into accepting a plea offer that you don’t want. This is your life, and you get to make this call.