This article is meant to explain what a plea offer is and the other options available to you or anyone charged with committing a criminal offense. First and foremost, you should know that there are generally three different ways to resolve a criminal case. First, we all have the right to go to trial. In adult criminal cases, you have the extra right to have a jury trial. This means that 6 or 12 people will decide whether you’re guilty or not, based upon the evidence in your case and the law.
Second, you can accept what is called a negotiated plea offer from the prosecutor by pleading guilty or no contest. In accepting a negotiated plea offer, you will know exactly what you are going to get up front. However, there are a few things to keep in mind. Perhaps the most important thing to understand is that accepting a negotiated plea offer from the state is the same thing as entering into a contract. With very few exceptions, you cannot simply get out of it because you have changed your mind. One way to decide whether or not you it would be in your best interest to accept the plea offer is to compare what you’re being offered by the prosecutor to what the maximum penalty provided by law is for the crime that you intend on pleading to. For example, in a misdemeanor battery case the maximum jail sentence that you could receive is one year in the county jail. So, if the prosecutor made you an offer that would result in no jail time and withholds adjudication - meaning that you will not have a conviction on your record - then it may be something you would want to consider. On the other hand if the state were to make you an offer of nine or more months in the county jail, as well as an adjudication - meaning that you would be convicted of the crime - you may want to consider taking the case to trial. Why? Well, because you have a 50% chance of being found Not Guilty at trial AND because you simply do not have much to lose by being found Guilty.
Finally, if you don’t want to go to trial and the state has made you an offer that you believe is unreasonable, you have one final option and it is called an “open plea to the court." Under this scenario, although you are still pleading guilty or no contest, you are putting your faith and trust in the Judge presiding over your case. Here, the Judge will listen to arguments made by the state and your attorney, as well as their recommendations on what sentence you should receive. The Judge will then sentence you as he or she sees fit. Although risky, sometimes pleading open to the court is the best option for you or a loved one. So, before making a decision, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney that can assist you in making the best possible decision for your case.