How to Know if You Should Take a Plea Deal in North Carolina

If you are facing criminal charges in North Carolina, chances are you are considering whether you should take a plea deal. A plea deal, or plea bargain, happens when a defendant pleads guilty to reduced or fewer charges to avoid harsher penalties. Some benefits come with accepting a plea deal in some cases, but plea bargains are not always the best option in every case.

Understanding the advantages and disadvantages of accepting a plea deal and speaking to an experienced criminal defense attorney can help you make an informed decision about your case. Do not hesitate to contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC, to schedule a free case evaluation and learn more.

What is a Plea Deal?

The prosecution may offer a plea deal if you have been arrested or charged with a crime. Instead of going to court and waiting for a judge or jury to rule on whether you are guilty or not guilty. When you accept the plea deal, you will admit guilt and not go to court. Instead, a judge will issue your sentence during a sentencing hearing. In exchange for pleading guilty, the prosecution may reduce the charges against you, dismiss one or more charges, or recommend to the judge a reduced sentence.

Sometimes prosecutors threaten defendants with charges they know they will probably not be able to prove in court. They may know that the facts do not support the severity of the charges they are threatening a defendant with, but they do so to entice the defendant into signing a plea bargain deal. For example, the prosecutor may tell the defendant that their sentence will be harsher if they do not accept the plea deal and plead guilty.

Understandably, many defendants accept the plea deal because of the threats made by the prosecutor. Working with a criminal defense attorney is crucial to understand whether a plea deal is fair and in your best interest or whether you should walk away. There are always risks associated with accepting a plea deal, especially when a defendant is not familiar with the criminal justice system and does not have an experienced attorney in their corner.

Plea Deals for First-Time Offenders

In some cases, prosecutors are more likely to offer first-time offenders plea deals. Prosecutors do not like to clog up an already backed-up court system with cases that may not result in a conviction. If you face a first-time criminal charge, a plea deal may be more beneficial than going to court. Plea deals typically result in reduced sentences. Suppose you are facing charges for possession with intent to sell our distributor marijuana. The prosecutor may offer you a plea bargain for a lesser charge, such as a misdemeanor charge. Alternatively, the prosecutor may offer you the option to complete a diversion program after you plead guilty.

If you are facing a first-time driving while under the influence (DWI) charge and there are aggravating factors in your case, you could be facing felony charges. Accepting a plea bargain could be in your best interest, even if it is your first DWI charge. Your attorney may even be able to negotiate a deferred prosecution. In this scenario, the prosecutor will agree not to pursue charges for a specific time frame. As long as you stay free from additional criminal charges for this time frame, the prosecutor will drop your original charges at the end. These types of deals may be able to be negotiated when the defendant's criminal history is non-existent.

When Should a Defendant Accept a Plea Bargain?

As you can see, plea bargains vary from case to case. Whether you should accept a plea bargain or not will depend on the specific circumstances in your case. There are always a few factors to consider before accepting a plea deal. First, you should always discuss your case with an attorney before you make any decisions. Defendants facing certain charges, including felony charges, may be more likely to benefit from accepting a plea deal.

Jury trials can be extremely unpredictable. Even if you do not think the prosecution has enough evidence against you to obtain a conviction, there is always the possibility that jurors will convict you. You could be looking at extensive prison time with a guilty verdict. You never know the verdict after a long and expensive criminal trial.

If you accept a plea bargain, your permanent criminal record will show more severe charges than if you were convicted in court. Additionally, depending on the crime you have been charged with, you may be eligible for expungement. However, suppose the attorney is being unreasonable, and you know that your constitutional rights were violated or that the attorney does not have enough evidence against you. In that case, it may be better to proceed to court.