Plea Bargaining in Criminal Cases

Should you take a plea or go to trial? This is not a one-size-fits-all question. Each case is different, and each defendant is different in the amount of risk they can tolerate.

Before you even get to the question of going to trial, your attorney should be asking some preliminary questions. Is there a legitimate suppression issue? Is there a way to get the prosecutor to dismiss before trial? Are there any options for pretrial diversion? If successful on any of these fronts, you can have your cake and eat it too, because you get the dismissal without having to go through a trial.

If none of these options are available, it is time to decide if you want to negotiate with the prosecutor, or take the case to trial. Trial is not always as scary as it sounds. The prosecutor and judge will try to scare you with maximum penalties.

However, the penalty for being found guilty often ends up being equal or less than the offer from the prosecutor. Whether that is likely to be true in your particular case can only be answered by an experienced attorney.

If you decide to negotiate with the prosecutor, the process is similar to any other negotiation. You shouldn’t accept the first offer. You should drive a hard bargain and push for trial if necessary. The prosecutor has a lot of cases on his or her plate, and usually they have a bigger fish to fry. By being a thorn in their side, you can often get a nice deal.

Another tactic is to offer the prosecutor something you can stomach – like community service hours or classes – to avoid a conviction. You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, and sometimes this is the best way to get the offer you want from a prosecutor.

If you feel like this sort of horse-trading should be quarantined to the used car lot, you are not alone. In an ideal world, criminal penalties would center on the severity of the crime, not on the strength of your negotiations. But we’re not in an ideal world and this is often the best way to effectively represent a client.

If you are facing criminal charges and would like to talk about likely outcomes, you can call for a free consultation. 512-677-5003.

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