The court system would shut down without plea bargains. Courts don’t have enough time and resources to conduct trials in every criminal case. The court system would rather you not know this information.
Don’t misunderstand me, you can benefit from a plea bargain under certain circumstances. Prosecutors usually offer reduced sentences to entice people to enter plea bargains. Hence, if the prosecutor has a strong case against you, it may be beneficial to agree to a plea bargain, with the advice of your attorney, of course.
There are situations, however, when you should reject a plea bargain and proceed to trial. Knowing when to reject a plea bargain is critical. This paper suggests when to accept a plea bargain or not. This information is not exhaustive and should NOT take the place of sound legal counsel. I based the following suggestions on Texas law primarily although some of the information is relevant in any state.
First, don’t negotiate the plea bargain yourself. You need an experienced attorney to negotiate the plea bargain. If you cannot afford an attorney the state will appoint one for you. Make sure your attorney is an experienced criminal defense attorney who knows criminal law.
Second, have your attorney obtain all the discovery before agreeing to a plea bargain. Discovery will disclose to you the state’s evidence. The state usually offers better plea bargains if the evidence is weak or you have valuable information.
Third, have your attorney explain all your options. Here are several options:
- You always have an absolute right to reject a plea bargain and proceed to a jury or bench trial. A bench trial is when the judge, not jury, decides guilt and punishment.
- With the agreement of the state, you can choose an open plea, which is when you plead guilty before the judge and allow the judge to decide your punishment.
- With the agreement of the state, you can choose a slow plea, which is when you plead guilty before the judge and allow the jury to decide your punishment.
There are advantages and disadvantages of all the above options. Make sure your attorney explains them to you thoroughly.
Fourth, have your attorney explain meticulously the punishment range and potential collateral consequences of a guilty plea. Only then will you will know how your guilty plea will affect your life inside and outside the courtroom. Don’t accept a plea bargain in haste not knowing or understanding how it will negatively affect your life.
Fifth, if the state offers you probation, make sure your attorney explains in detail the advantages, disadvantages, and differences between straight probation and deferred adjudication and the conditions of probation. Take notes. Then you will know the seriousness of being on probation and the possible outcomes if you violate your probation.
Finally, don’t be afraid to go to trial especially if you are innocent. However, no one can assure you that the outcome of a trial will be positive even if you are innocent because juries are unpredictable. Juries have sent innocent people to prison. Nevertheless, you may regret later accepting a plea bargain if you are innocent.
Again, this information is not legal advice. It’s information to help you ask good questions of your attorney before accepting a plea bargain.
If you have additional questions, feel free to call me at 214-643-6199 or (214) 725-0254.