Should I take a plea bargain?

When a person is charged with a crime, the final outcome of the case is one of three things: the case is dismissed and the charge is dropped, the person is found not guilty and acquitted of the crime, or the person is found guilty and sentenced.

In order to be convicted of a crime, a person must be found guilty of the crime. That happens in one of three ways:

  • The defendant enters a guilty plea.
  • The defendant waives his or her right to a jury trial, and the judge finds the defendant guilty during a bench trial.
  • The case goes to jury trial and the jury finds the defendant guilty of the crime.

Sometimes, a defendant will enter into a plea agreement with the prosecution. In such a case, the defendant agrees to plead guilty in exchange for something more favorable than he or she would receive if the defense took the case to trial. For example, a person might plead guilty to a lesser charge, or he or she might plead guilty in exchange for a lighter sentence recommendation from the prosecutor.

One of the most common questions defendants have in criminal cases is, "How do I know if I should take a plea bargain or not?"

The only way to truly know if you should take a plea bargain is to discuss the matter with your defense attorney. The details of every case are unique: the amount of evidence that will be presented against the defendant, the criminal history of the defendant, the credibility of witnesses, the possible sentence one is facing, and the terms of the plea agreement. However, there are certain factors that should be considered in determining whether to agree to a plea bargain or to continue to plead not guilty and take the case to trial.

The primary thing to consider in determining whether or not to take a plea deal is the likelihood that you will be convicted of the crime. If the state's evidence is strong and you will likely be convicted at trial, taking a plea deal will save you the time and expense of a trial. Because prosecutors also want to move cases through the system quickly, they may be inclined to offer a deal--a lighter sentence recommendation or a lesser charge--in exchange for the guilty plea.

Benefits of a plea bargain may include the following:

  • Saving money and avoiding the expense of a trial
  • Resolving a case quickly and avoiding the prolonged justice process
  • Having a lesser charge (or less socially embarrassing charge) on one's record
  • Avoiding public awareness of the case
  • Sparing family and friends from having to testify in court

But just because the prosecution offers a deal does not mean it is a good deal. A sentence recommendation may still be too harsh--and the judge is under no obligation to comply with it, anyway. The lesser charge may still be too severe a charge. A prosecutor may be offering a deal because his or her evidence is weak and the chance of conviction is small if you choose to defend yourself at trial.

It is important to carefully evaluate the deal with your defense attorney. Your lawyer should carefully explain the pros and cons of accepting or rejecting a plea bargain. While an ethical attorney can not make any guarantees of outcomes to a case, he or she should be able to give you an idea of how things are likely to transpire. 

Hopefully, you have established a relationship of trust with your defense lawyer and can trust his or her recommendations. However, you have the final say in accepting or rejecting a plea deal. If you do not believe your attorney has your best interests at heart, perhaps you might consider finding new legal counsel. Generally, one should feel comfortable in following the advice of his or her attorney.

To speak with an Oklahoma defense lawyer about your case, call attorney Dustin S. Phillips at (405) 418-8888 to schedule a free, confidential consultation.

Image credit: Joe Gratz

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