One of the most important decisions you can make when facing criminal charges is whether to go to trial or plead guilty. While your criminal defense attorney can offer you advice, ultimately the decision is yours alone to make. Here are some factors to consider.
Going to Trial
If you are innocent of the crime you’ve been charged with, you may wish to go to trial and clear your name; you may also feel that going to trial is the best course of action if your charges are unfair or if you believe there are extenuating circumstances. It’s important to understand the risks involved in going to trial, and also the emotional burden involved—not just for you, but also for your loved ones.
An experienced criminal defense lawyer will be able to tell you the potential sentence you might receive should you go to trial and be convicted; if you’ve been assigned a judge, your attorney will also have background knowledge about their reputation that can help you make a decision. For example, some judges have a reputation for being easier on first-time offenders, while others could be known for unpredictability. This, too, should factor into your decision about whether to go to trial. Ultimately, your attorney can only offer their best guess as to what type of sentence you might face for your criminal case, which is why many defendants decide that it is in their best interest to accept a plea deal instead.
A plea bargain is an agreement reached between your attorney and the prosecution that allows you to resolve your case without going to trial. One of the advantages of this is that there’s more predictability—you have no way of knowing what kind of sentence you will get if you go to trial and your punishment is entirely out of your attorney’s control, while a plea bargain is based on mutual agreement. Even if you feel you are innocent or the charges against you are unfair, it may benefit you to accept a plea deal for your criminal case in order to face a reduced punishment and avoid the stress of a trial.
Types of plea bargains include:
- Charge bargains – Pleading guilty to a crime that is less serious than the original charge.
- Count bargaining – Pleading guilty to only one of the crimes you’ve been charged with in exchange for the prosecution dropping the other charges.
- Sentence bargaining – Pleading guilty or no contest after an agreement is reached regarding sentencing.
- Fact bargaining – Pleading guilty in exchange for omitting facts that would increase a sentence due to sentencing guidelines.
In addition to deciding whether to plead guilty, there’s also the question of timing. You may decide to accept a plea deal immediately or wait until closer to the trial date in hopes of getting a better deal.
Making Your Decision
There is the possibility that in a trial, you could be found innocent and would not receive any punishment at all; there is also the possibility that you would receive a much harsher sentence than you would have you pleaded guilty and avoided court. This is why the decision to go to trial or plea must be made carefully, based on your criminal defense attorney’s guidance.
Your criminal defense attorney has your best interests in mind when they offer you advice. If your opinion is at odds with theirs, make sure you understand the reasoning behind their suggestions. Sometimes it can be difficult to separate your emotions from the facts at hand, especially if you feel that your charges are unfair. It’s your attorney’s job to advocate for you, but they must also take an objective look at the situation you’re facing.