Weighing the Pros and Cons of a Plea Agreement
Plea bargains, or plea agreements, are very common across the United States. According to the Innocence Project, 97 percent of criminal cases are disposed of by way of a plea bargain. There are concerns that many defendants enter these agreements without fully understanding the implications or without careful consideration of the benefits and disadvantages.
If you’ve been charged with a crime in the Pittsburgh area, you need to fully understand your options. At Worgul, Sarna & Ness Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC, we see plea agreements as an option when there are no better choices. Our criminal defense attorneys will only recommend that you accept a plea agreement if we believe it is the best option available. If you’ve been offered a plea agreement and would like to speak with one of our criminal defense attorneys, call us right away at (412) 281-2146 or fill out our online contact form to schedule a free consultation.
The Basics of a Plea Agreement
A plea agreement is a deal that is negotiated between the prosecutors and a defendant. As part of the agreement, you will likely have to plead guilty or “no contest” to a specific charge or charges. The agreement can be for a reduction in charges or a specific sentence. The Agreement typically offers benefits to both sides of the case.
If you have been offered a plea agreement, you should first understand that the prosecution may have made the offer because they are worried they may not be able to get a conviction. Second, the bargain they have offered may not be the best possible outcome for you – there may be other terms that you can get through skilled negotiation. Finally, the judge has to approve the agreement even after you have accepted it, although judges usually follow the prosecutor’s recommendation.
The Pros of a Plea Agreement
The principal benefit of a plea agreement is that you don’t have to face the uncertainty of a trial. Juries can be unpredictable and there is a possibility that you will be convicted even if you are innocent. In addition, you may face a harsher sentence or other penalties by going to trial.
Plea agreements often entail pleading guilty to a lesser charge, such as a misdemeanor crime rather than a felony. You may also be able to plead to a lighter sentence and reduced fines, such as probation in lieu of jail time.
Another benefit is that a plea agreement can help you reduce your legal fees by avoiding the expense of a trial. Preparing for and going to trial is expensive because it requires a lot of work from your attorney. This can be an important consideration if there is an appreciable risk that you could be convicted and you are paying your legal fees out of your own pocket.
The Cons of a Plea Agreement
The obvious disadvantage of a plea agreement is that you have to plead guilty or “no contest” to a criminal charge. Criminal convictions are public record, and so you will face damage to your reputation and public stigma. Depending on the crime, it may make it difficult to keep your current job or find future employment. For sex offenses, a conviction means that you will have to register as a sex offender.
When you accept a plea agreement, you also give up your right to a trial by jury. As a result, the prosecution’s evidence will go unchallenged, and you will lose your right to raise a defense to the charges.
Plea agreements are particularly troublesome if you are innocent of the charges. Prosecutors commonly “overcharge” defendants by charging them with every possible crime they can, even if some of the charges are barely supported by the evidence. This is a tactic designed to pressure you into pleading to some of the charges, rather than risk conviction on any one of the charges. The underlying strategy here is that the jury, faced with multiple charges, will assume that you must be guilty of something.
Pittsburgh Criminal Defense Attorneys Helping You Get a Fair Result
Despite how common they are, plea agreements are very serious matters that result in you surrendering your rights. The attorneys at Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC know when you should accept a plea agreement and when you shouldn’t. Don’t give up your rights without speaking to an experienced criminal defense attorney – call us today at (412) 281-2146 or our online contact form to schedule a free consultation and plea agreement evaluation.