This article about plea bargaining is aimed for the innocent, the guilty, and the overcharged. Plea bargaining is something everyone needs to understand and consider. Even the innocent need to think about it because going to a jury trial is a roll of the dice – even with the best attorneys and even with great facts. You just never know what a jury of twelve people is going to do with your case!
If you looked at the numbers, an overwhelming number of the criminal cases in the system end up in plea bargains. The reason is that most people are guilty of something, or they risk losing a lot by going to trial. The problem is knowing if you should plea bargain and knowing when you should plea bargain. What makes it even more difficult is the fact that, in many cases, the quicker you negotiate a plea bargain, the better deal you will get. The problem with that is you may not know enough early on or you may not have enough trust in your lawyer yet to allow him/her to cut a deal for you. Good plea negotiations are best when you and your lawyer have a relationship of trust, knowledge, and thorough analysis.
You, as an accused, need to understand this process and take advantage of it to minimize the damage to your life. Sometimes these are very hard choices and involve incarceration time. Whether your situation is lightweight or heavyweight, you need to move swiftly and with sound judgment to get the best possible result. This means understanding the facts against you and understanding how you and your case are viewed by the system.
With rare exception, the accused knows whether or not they are guilty. Knowing how strong the evidence is against you is another matter. In many cases the accused would not know the power of the evidence. Witnesses and forensic evidence may exist that the accused would have no idea exists. For example, someone nearby a crime may have written down the license number of the car speeding away, or the accused may have left a unique shoe print in a patch of dirt on a path away from the spot where the crime occurred. Never underestimate the power of science to gather fibers, hairs, and other trace evidence that can be more powerful than any eyewitness identification or crime partner statement.
The way you calculate the strength of the evidence is to demand and review all of the police reports, investigative reports, photos, audio/video and expert analysis from the district attorney’s office. Your lawyer will be able to get most of this information within a few days of the arraignment. You should review it immediately and thoroughly. This review, combined with a briefing with your lawyer should give you a decent idea of the strength of the evidence against you.
Frequently the question comes up whether or not the client should take the early deal or reject it and head through the preliminary hearing towards trial. Years ago, it seems, the deals got better the closer you got to trial. Nowadays the system tries to make you plea early. In many cases, this is the best decision for the client but in .some cases it is not the best move. Whether or not you should reject the early offer or deal is a question that can only be answered by you after you consult with an attorney who has extensive experience in criminal defense and has prepared your case effectively. Your attorney will assist you in deciding what the risk and potential reward is for going forward instead of taking the deal.