Legal Guide

Are Plea Bargains Worth Considering?

Facing criminal charges is a serious matter. Whether you have a bench trial or exercise your right to a jury trial, a criminal conviction can result in serious consequences. You could end up spending time in jail, paying large fines, and depending on the offense, you might even have your driver’s license suspended or revoked completely.

While your case is being heard, there’s a chance you might be presented with a plea deal. A plea bargain is where you agree to plead guilty in exchange for a reduced sentence. Sometimes a plea bargain involves pleading guilty to a lesser charge, but either way, you have to plead guilty to get the deal.

For many people, this opportunity seems like a great option, especially when presented as the best way to get things over with quickly. However, taking the deal may not be in your best interest.

Don’t take a plea deal without talking to an attorney

If you aren’t a lawyer, you won’t know if the deal you’re being offered is worth accepting. No matter how good the deal might seem, there could be specific details about your case that can either get your case dismissed before your trial or are highly likely to get a jury to acquit. If you take a bad deal, you could end up living with consequences unnecessarily.

While most criminal cases end with the defendant accepting a plea bargain, that doesn’t mean it’s always a good thing. Most people simply want to avoid the time, energy, and cost of going to trial. Other people just want to avoid the potential of spending more time in prison, as is common for jury trials that end in a conviction.

For example, in 2006, a man named George Alvarez was attacked by prison guards and was falsely charged with assaulting a prison guard. He didn’t want to go to trial because the minimum sentence was a mandatory ten years. He pled guilty not knowing there was a video proving his innocence. By the time the video became known, it was too late. After his sentencing, he spent four years in prison fighting his conviction and was eventually exonerated.

Sometimes plea bargains are the best option

Sometimes taking a deal is the best option. For instance, if you can’t afford to pay  your attorney throughout the trial, you don’t want a state-appointed lawyer, or you don’t qualify for assistance, you may have no choice but to take a deal.

If you don’t have a strong case and your attorney says a jury isn’t likely to side with you, that’s another good reason to accept a plea deal. However, you can’t make that decision on your own. Only an attorney can tell you if you’re being offered a good deal or not.

Additionally, there are times when a plea deal is the better option because of the sentence a jury is likely to hand down, so if your attorney tells you to take a plea deal, they know best. For example, when Ray Cromartie was charged with murder, the state didn’t have much of a case against him. He maintained his innocence throughout his trial.

DNA testing would have exonerated Cromartie, but the state refused to perform the tests. Prosecutors offered him a plea deal that would have paroled him after seven years and today he would be a free man. He refused the deal because he didn’t want to plead guilty. The state sought the death penalty against him and he was executed in 2019. Whether he actually committed the crime or not can’t be determined, but the fact is that either way, he would be a free man right now had he taken that deal.

What makes a plea deal bad?

You might be wondering what makes a plea deal bad in the first place. That depends on individual circumstances, but most of the time, a bad deal is one that feels more like a threat than a deal. For example, there are many instances where people have had property illegally seized and prosecutors offered them a deal: waive their right to challenge the seizure and they won’t put their kids in foster care or charge their kids with a crime.

Listen to your attorney

While plea bargains do sometimes help, they aren’t the right choice for everyone. If you’re being offered a plea deal, it’s in your best interest to listen to your attorney before accepting or rejecting any offer.

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