When you’ve been charged with a crime in California, determining whether you should go to trial or accept a plea deal is a difficult decision. A plea deal is an agreement in a criminal prosecution in which a defendant is given a chance to plead guilty to a lesser charge in exchange for a lighter sentence.
Thus, when a defendant accepts a plea deal, although the state still obtains a conviction, the punishment received by the defendant is less severe than they would have otherwise received at trial were they found guilty. In other words, depending on the circumstances, a plea deal can be highly advantageous to both the defendant and the prosecution. In this article, we discuss plea deals in California.
Criminal Trials vs. Plea Deals
Around 90% of criminal cases in the United States are settled via plea deals. This also applies to California. In fact, defendants receive plea deal offers in the majority of California criminal cases.
A defendant is not required to accept a plea deal, however. Each defendant in a criminal case has the right to a fair trial. So, when deciding whether to accept a plea deal or go to trial, it is important to consult an experienced California criminal defense attorney.
Anatomy of a Plea Deal
A defendant can be offered a plea deal at any stage of the criminal process. For example, a plea deal offer may occur at arraignment, which is the court appearance in which a defendant enters a plea of guilty or not guilty, or it may happen at trial.
What normally happens with a plea deal is that the defendant in a criminal case decides to plead guilty to a lesser charge, which comes with lesser penalties. For example, the state may offer a defendant the opportunity to plead guilty to a misdemeanor in lieu of a felony, or a defendant may plead guilty to an infraction instead of a misdemeanor.
However, although a plea deal results in lesser charges, this may not be ideal for a defendant who is adamant about their innocence. For a defendant in this situation, a criminal charge of any kind may be unacceptable. Given the importance of a plea bargain in a criminal case, every defendant should consult a criminal defense lawyer before making a final decision.
What Are the Pros of a Plea Deal?
As with all major decisions, there are pros and cons to accepting a plea deal. The pros of accepting a plea deal include:
Plea deals save time: Once you accept a plea deal, the case is effectively over. However, if you take your case to trial rather than accepting a plea deal, the process can take weeks or even months to conclude, depending on the complexity of your case.
Plea deals save money: In addition to being lengthy, trials can be expensive. The longer a trial goes on, the more legal fees you accumulate if you have hired a private attorney.
Plea deals are predictable: When you accept a plea deal, you avoid the risk of being found guilty at trial of a more serious charge.
What Are the Cons of a Plea Deal?
Although plea deals have their advantages, they also come with several potential drawbacks. The cons of accepting a plea deal include:
A plea deal will result in a criminal record—even if you’re innocent: If you are innocent of the crime with which you’ve been accused and accept a plea deal, you are accepting guilt for something you didn’t do. Although this may be the best option in your situation, it can be a difficult pill to swallow for someone who’s done nothing wrong.
A plea deal can have additional consequences: Although a plea deal can result in a lesser charge, it still results in a criminal record. In addition to the penalties associated with your charge, other consequences can result from having a criminal record. For example, a criminal record can make it difficult to find employment, secure housing, or own a firearm.
A plea deal can reduce your appeal options: Finally, pleading guilty through a plea deal can reduce your appeal options. Following a criminal trial in which a defendant is found guilty, they still have the option to appeal the decision. However, once you accept a plea deal, you generally have few appeal options left.
Contact a California Criminal Defense Lawyer for Help Deciding Whether To Accept a Plea Deal
If you’ve been accused of a crime in California, you need an experienced criminal defense lawyer on your side. A lot is at stake when you’ve been charged with a crime.
An experienced California criminal defense attorney can help you decide the best course of action in your case. They’ll advise whether accepting a plea deal is in your best interest. Contact the dynamic legal team of Ahmed & Sukaram, Attorneys at Law for a free consultation at (408) 217-8818.