I've been charged with a felony in Mississippi, what are my options?
So you've been arrested, and possibly indicted, for a felony. What are your options? Should you go to trial? Should you take a deal? This guide gives you a general overview of your three options.
Option 1: Go to trial.If you are innocent, or after talking with an attorney, you feel that the State does not have enough evidence to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt, then you should go to trial. Whether you decide to go to trial should largely depend on what evidence that the State has against you, as well as the judge that your case is in front of, and where you are located. Keep in mind that if you go to trial, and you are found guilty, then the judge will determine your sentence (how much time you spend in jail).
Going to trial should always be the default for any attorney that you speak with, until they have had a chance to look through the discovery and evidence in your case, and discuss the matter with you.
Note that if you decide to go to trail, and are found guilty, your attorney should work to mitigate (lessen) your time in jail by preparing for the sentencing phase, but that is a topic for another day...
Option 2: Enter an open plea.After reviewing the State's discovery and evidence, if you feel that there is substantial evidence to support a conviction, or that it is in your best interest to enter a plea of guilt, BUT are not satisfied with the plea offer that the State has made, then you have the absolute right to enter an open plea. This is a fancy lawyer way of saying that you are acknowledging your guilt (or feel that it is in your best interest to enter a guilty plea), but you are leaving your sentence up to the judge. The risk with this is that the judge can sentence you to whatever time that they feel, so long as it is within the statutory range.
Like with option 1, though, there are ways to lessen the potential jail time at the sentencing phase. Another important aspect with this option is that depending on your charge, you may not be able to exercise this option, such as if you were indicted as a habitual offender and the State will not drop that as part of a plea deal.
Typically, this option is what is used when trying to use an alternative to sentencing, such as drug court or non-adjudication.
Option 3: Take a plea deal.This option should only be used if you feel as though there is enough evidence to support a conviction and your other options are exhausted; however, your attorney should be able to negotiate a plea deal to minimize your jail time. Keep in mind, though, that depending on the nature of the charges, your criminal background, and a few other factors, your attorney*s ability to negotiate may vary. For example, if you are a first time offender and are young, you have significantly more wiggle room to negotiate than if you were older with a more extensive criminal background, and charged as a habitual offender.
A WORD OF CAUTION: Even though your attorney and the State may have negotiated a good plea deal, you must always remember that what they have agreed to is a joint recommendation to the judge. In other words, the judge is not bound by what the attorneys have agreed on, and can instead impose a harsher or lighter sentence if he or she decides; however, most of time, the judge will follow the joint recommendation.
Which option should you take?There is not a one-size-fits-all approach to choosing an option. The answer will always depend on the facts and circumstances of your case, as well who the District Attorney is, your judge, etc. Your attorney should always walk you through the State's case, and advise as to what the best possible outcome could be depending on the different options. Keep in mind, though, that the decision is ultimately up to you!