The decision of whether to accept a plea bargain or do a trial is never easy and ultimately up to the individual after careful consultation with an attorney. The role of the attorney in this decision should only be in an advisory capacity. It is never the choice of the attorney to make such an important decision for the client. The individual should be made aware of the all options and the legal consequences of each option in order to make an informed choice.
Accepting a plea bargain lets you know exactly what the terms of your sentence will be and what will be expected of you. Under a plea bargain, you have some measure of control over what happens to you. The comfort of knowing the exact consequences of accepting a plea is enormous. However, an individual should not decide to take a plea simply to get a case over with or because it is cheaper. The decision should be about what is in the individual’s best interest and future. Also keep in mind that prosecutors are more willing to negotiate if they think their case is flawed or weak in some way.
A person must thoroughly analyze the cost and benefit of accepting a plea bargain. For example, will this plea bargain allow a person to keep their record clean and preserve future employment opportunities? Is the disposition eventually expungeable? Can I even complete the terms of the plea bargain being offered? What will happen if I am unable to meet the terms of the plea? Sometimes the terms of a proposed plea offer may be so onerous that electing to go to trial truly is the best and only option that makes sense.
On the other hand, opting for a trial means that you will leave your fate in the hands of the trier of fact (judge or jury). There are 2 types of trials. You can have a jury trial whereby 12 selected individuals will decide the case or you can elect for a bench trial where only the judge will decide the outcome. Generally, a jury trial will involve a greater commitment in time and resources. In a trial, there is no guarantee that you will prevail and if you are found guilty then you are subject to the minimum and maximum penalties available under law.
Electing to do a trial is a risky proposition and sometimes is no better than gambling. However, if a plea offer is so unconscionable and unacceptable then sometimes the best and only alternative is a trial. A person should evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the case before committing to a trial. For example, are there witnesses cooperating in the prosecution of the case? Did the police properly handle and store any known evidence? Were scientific tests conducted in a timely and appropriate manner? Ultimately, an individual and their lawyer must consider if the State can meet their burden and prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt.