When you have been accused of any type of crime, it can be incredibly difficult to decide what to do next. Should you fight the charges? Enter a guilty verdict? Accept a plea bargain? For many people, entering a plea bargain can help decrease the consequences of criminal actions and make it easier to move forward. For others, a plea bargain may not achieve the desired outcome. Working with an experienced defense lawyer in San Antonio can make it easier to navigate the legal process and learn more about how you can best protect your rights.
What is a Plea Bargain?
A plea bargain is an agreement between the prosecutor and defendant in criminal law. In a plea bargain, the defendant pleads guilty to lesser charges in exchange for a more lenient sentence or reduced legal penalties. For example, the defendant might plead guilty to lesser charges if the prosecutor agrees to drop the higher charges, or the defendant might plead guilty in exchange for a lesser criminal sentence, including decreased jail time.
Why Do Up to 98% of Cases Not Go to Trial?
There are several reasons why the majority of Texas criminal cases do not end up going to trial.
- Resources in the court system are limited. Prosecutors, as a result, often do not want to take lower-stakes criminal cases to trial, which could put further strain on their resources.
- Reaching an agreement out of court can decrease the overall cost to the court system and the defendant. Trials are often expensive processes that involve a big commitment of time and resources on both sides.
- Many defendants discover that they can get a better deal through a plea bargain than they could through a court trial.
In many cases, a plea bargain can offer a better outcome for both sides. However, it may not always be the right choice. Working with a lawyer can help each defendant decide on the best options for their individual case.
Why You Need a Lawyer When Plea Bargaining
Having a lawyer on your side can make a huge difference as you decide whether to accept a plea bargain. A lawyer can help:
- Lay out your legal options. In many cases, the prosecutor may not make your options clear, which can make it more difficult for you to determine whether you want to accept a plea bargain or continue to fight.
- Ensure that you understand the possible consequences of a plea bargain, including the possible future consequences.
- Offer insight into whether a plea bargain may or may not be the best option for you, specifically.
- Fight to help you get the best possible offer, including less severe charges and a more lenient sentence.
Having a lawyer on your side can also help you feel more confident about the choices you have made as you determine whether a plea bargain fits your needs.
Are Plea Bargains Common in Texas?
Between 90 and 95% of criminal cases nationwide are resolved through plea bargains, and Texas cases are no exception. Criminal cases are more often settled out of court than through the courts in Texas.
Is a Plea Deal Worth It?
When you accept a plea deal, you are automatically taking a guilty verdict. Sometimes, plea bargains can mean better overall outcomes for the defendant, especially in cases where a lawyer feels confident that the court would return a guilty verdict if the case went before a judge and jury. On the other hand, there are some notable disadvantages to plea deals. Working with a lawyer can provide you with more information about whether a plea deal is right for you. Your attorney may ask you to consider several key factors.
- Sometimes, a plea deal can occur before the criminal investigation concludes. That may mean that the defendant misses out on evidence that could have clearly established reasonable doubt in the minds of the jury, which could increase the odds of receiving a verdict of innocent.
- The prosecution may take advantage of the defendant’s weaknesses and pressure the defendant to accept an early plea bargain, even in cases where the defendant knows that he is innocent. As a result, some people may end up facing criminal consequences even when they did not commit the crime in question.
- Plea bargains can, in many cases, lead to lesser criminal consequences for the defendant. Pleading guilty to lesser charges can mean less jail time or lower fines. It can also help provide defendants with more information about diversion programs or specialty courts, all of which can help reduce criminal penalties.
- Plea bargains are not always set in stone. While prosecutors can issue recommendations on sentencing, the judge does not necessarily have to take those recommendations into account. Defendants should carefully consider these implications before accepting a plea bargain.
What Happens When a Defendant Accepts a Plea Deal?
Accepting a plea deal does not automatically mean that the criminal process comes to an end. The judge will first hear the plea in open court. This could occur at a special hearing for a defendant already in custody or at the next scheduled hearing date. The judge will usually take the time to talk to the defendant and ask questions to help establish that the defendant is guilty of the crime for which the plea has been entered. The judge will also want to make sure that the defendant is knowingly entering a guilty plea.
Finally, the judge will either accept or refuse to accept the plea. If the judge accepts the guilty plea, sentencing can either occur at that trial or at a future date. A guilty plea can, in some cases, help decrease criminal consequences and lead to more freedom for the defendant. However, working with a lawyer is critical. If accused of any crime, ask for an attorney and use your right to remain silent, then wait to consult with your attorney before making a decision about any plea deal.