To Plead or to Take a Case to Trial?
In the world of criminal law, one of the most crucial decisions a criminal defendant must make is whether to take a case to trial or negotiate and accept a plea deal. Whether a defendant is charged with a misdemeanor or a felony, this decision carries profound implications for the defendant and it cannot be taken lightly. Below is a discussion of the pros and cons of choosing to take a case to trial versus accepting a plea agreement.The Decision to Go to Trial
Presumption of Innocence: One of the foremost advantages of taking a case to trial in front of a judge or a trial before a jury is the defendant's continued presumption of innocence. In a courtroom, the burden of proof rests on the prosecution, which means they must prove the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. This provides an opportunity for a skilled attorney to challenge the evidence, scrutinize witnesses, and craft a compelling defense strategy.
Possibility of Acquittal: Going to trial offers the defendant a chance to be acquitted, ultimately clearing their name of any wrongdoing. If the evidence is weak or if there are legal flaws in the prosecution's case, a favorable verdict can be achieved. Jeopardy attaches when the jury is impaneled and if the jury renders a not guilty verdict, the defendant can never again be tried for the crime.
Leverage for Plea Negotiations: A strong defense and the potential for a favorable trial outcome can provide significant leverage in plea negotiations. Prosecutors may be more inclined to offer a favorable plea deal if they believe their case is weak.
Appeal Rights: If convicted at trial, the defendant has the right to appeal the verdict based on legal errors or misconduct during the trial. This avenue can potentially lead to a reversal of the conviction or a new trial.
Time-Consuming: Trials can be lengthy proceedings, often spanning several months or even years.
Uncertain Outcome: The outcome of a trial is uncertain, and there is always a risk of conviction. If convicted, the defendant may face harsher penalties than those offered in a plea deal. For example, imagine a scenario where a defendant is charged with four counts of domestic violence. The defendant is offered a deal to plead guilty to one count of domestic violence, but the defendant takes the case to trial and is found guilty on all four counts. This increases the risk that the defendant could face a more severe punishment, such as more time in prison.The Decision to Accept a Plea Deal
Certainty of Outcome: Perhaps the most significant advantage of accepting a plea deal is the certainty it offers. Both the defendant and their attorney know the exact terms of the agreement, including the charges, penalties, and sentence.
Reduced Charges or Penalties: Plea deals often involve a reduction in charges or recommended penalties. This can result in a more lenient sentence, which may include probation, community service, or a shorter jail or prison term.
Timeliness: Plea deals can resolve cases more quickly than trials, sparing the defendant and their family the emotional and financial toll of a lengthy legal battle.
Waiver of Trial Rights: When a defendant accepts a plea deal, they waive their right to a trial by jury and their right to confront witnesses. This means they will not have the opportunity to challenge the prosecution's evidence in open court.
Inability to Appeal: One of the most critical drawbacks of plea deals is the inability to appeal the conviction. In California, once a defendant accepts a plea deal and is sentenced, they generally cannot appeal unless they can demonstrate that the plea was not entered voluntarily or with an understanding of the consequences.
Possible Collateral Consequences: Depending on the nature of the plea deal, there may be collateral consequences, such as loss of professional licenses, immigration consequences for non-citizens, or mandatory sex offender registration.
The decision to take a criminal case to trial or accept a plea deal is a pivotal moment in the legal journey of a defendant in California. If you are facing criminal charges, it is absolutely critical that you discuss your case with a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney. As a former Deputy District Attorney with over 14 years of prosecutorial experience, Los Angeles criminal defense attorney Michael Kraut has excellent relationships with prosecutors across California, has an excellent track record of getting favorable plea deals for his clients, and is an experienced trial attorney.
For more information about the criminal justice process, and to schedule your free consultation, contact Michael Kraut at the Kraut Law Group located at 6255 Sunset Boulevard, Suite 1520, Los Angeles, CA 90028. Mr. Kraut can be reached 24/7 at 888-334-6344 or 323-464-6453.