When you’ve been charged with any kind of crime, it probably won’t be long before you start hearing about the possibility of a deal. In fact, less than 10% of criminal defendants ever see “their day in court,” because the vast majority of cases are closed through plea bargains.
Plea bargains are basically a conviction by agreement. In exchange for something like the prosecution’s willingness to reduce your charges or agree to a specific sentence, you agree to plead guilty to the crime.
Why would anybody just agree to plead guilty?
Given that the right to a trial in a court of law is a cornerstone of the legal system in this country, it seems strange that so many people would agree to a deal that leaves them with a criminal record – but it happens for some very common reasons:
- A defendant may not have been able to afford bail, and the plea involves “time served,” so they take the deal in order to go home and back to their regular life.
- A defendant may be afraid that if they fight back in court and lose, they’ll be subject to the “trial tax,” which means they may have a much harsher sentence imposed by the court than they’d get through the plea deal.
- A prosecutor may engage in intimidation by stacking up as many additional charges as the law will allow over a single incident, just to make the potential penalty for conviction as scary as possible.
- Prosecutors may convince the defendant that they have no chance of winning at trial, simply because the defendant doesn’t really know how questionable some forensic evidence or eyewitness testimony can be.
When you have a criminal charge hanging over your head, it’s easy to anticipate the worst – and that makes people inclined to reach out for anything that looks like a lifeline, including a bad plea deal. It’s always wisest to remember that plea deals usually benefit the prosecution the most, since they always go down as a “win” in their books. You shouldn’t agree to one without experienced legal guidance.