The Pros and Cons of Accepting a Plea Agreement

Taking any case to court can be an unpleasant, long, and burdensome process. This is especially true in criminal cases. Both parties involved in a criminal case generally prefer to avoid taking a case to trial when possible. Prosecutors frequently depend on plea bargains to convict defendants while avoiding expensive and time-consuming trials.

However, with a plea bargain, both parties don't always get the outcome they want. While plea bargains are a viable option for many defendants, accepting a plea bargain isn't always the best strategy. Understanding the pros and cons of accepting a plea bargain can help defendants make informed, strategic decisions about their case.

What Is a Plea Bargain

When prosecutors and a defendant meet outside the courtroom and try to settle the case, both sides may agree to a plea bargain. In exchange for the defendant pleading guilty, the prosecution will usually decrease the seriousness of the charges. After the prosecutor and defendant have agreed upon the plea bargain, the prosecutor will take the agreement before the judge and wait for its approval. When a judge approves the plea bargain, it will become legally binding. Most plea bargains still require a judge's ruling.

The Pros and Cons of a Plea Bargain

The benefits of accepting a plea bargain are obvious. Both parties can avoid a lengthy and costly court process. The risk of a more serious punishment is reduced for the defendant. The justice system itself benefits from plea bargains because they remove the need for a judge to hear and decide on every single criminal case.

A major con of plea bargains is that the defendant will not be considered innocent in most cases. Plea bargains are still a widely preferred alternative in many criminal cases due to the fact that a defendant may not be pronounced innocent even if he or she proceeds to trial. For this reason, plea bargains can be beneficial to everyone.

Quite a number of people criticize how prevalent plea bargaining has become. In North Carolina and in other states, approximately 90% of criminal convictions arise from negotiated plea bargains. Less than 10% of criminal cases ever appear in front of a judge.

Some of the criticisms are valid, especially when defendants are pressured into accepting a plea bargain against their best interests. Some defendants may not understand that they are agreeing to plead guilty when they agree to a plea bargain. Prosecutors may pressure defendants into accepting plea bargains when they know they do not have enough evidence to convict a defendant in court.

Should I Accept a Plea Bargain?

Deciding whether or not to accept a plea bargain is always challenging. Making a decision about your case will depend on the facts and circumstances surrounding your case, your financial standing, your criminal history, and many other factors. The terms of the plea bargain itself will also play an important role in whether you should accept the plea bargain or not. For example, suppose you are a licensed professional, such as a doctor.

If you are convicted of a felony, your medical license could be taken away. Accepting a plea bargain could prohibit you from the chance to keep your license and your means of making a living. Pleading guilty to a crime you never committed could help you avoid jail time or reduce jail time, but the other consequences could be disastrous.

It's important for you to be pragmatic about your options and review them with an outside professional, mainly an experienced criminal defense attorney. A criminal defense attorney can give you a fair assessment of the likelihood that your case will proceed to trial. However, when it comes to accepting or rejecting a plea bargain, the final decision will always lie with you as the defendant.

Your attorney may be able to aggressively negotiate with the prosecution to pursue an even better plea agreement than the prosecutor has offered you. When prosecutors know that an aggressive attorney represents the defendant, they are more likely to negotiate better terms.

Discuss Your Case with a Skilled Criminal Defense Attorney in Charlotte

Making a decision as to whether to accept a plea bargain can be difficult. Your freedom, future, and livelihood may hang in the balance. If you have been charged with a crime and are unsure how to navigate the criminal process, you will benefit from contacting a skilled attorney. Don't hesitate to contact the skilled Charlotte criminal defense attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC to schedule a complimentary case evaluation.