Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Trial versus Plea - Which is Better?

     Most criminal cases end with a plea agreement (sometimes called a plea "bargain" depending on one's viewpoint) rather than trial.  The benefits usually are apparent - reduced criminal charges, speedier resolution, minimized sentence risks, and of course lower legal fees and costs.  So why would anyone ever try his/her criminal case?

There are seven main reasons:

1.  No acceptable plea offer is made.  The prosecution does not have to make a plea offer, or if one is made, it is a bad one (because the facts of the case are terrible, or the defendant has a criminal history, or the law precludes a better offer, or the prosecutor's policy is not to extend good offers, or the judge won't accept a better offer etc.), or not really an offer at all (such as having the defendant plead to the charges and be sentenced by the judge, known to some defense lawyers around these parts as "the Jeffco deal").

2.  The defendant is innocent. Just as the prosecution does not have to make an offer, a defendant does not have to accept one and instead may invoke his/her constitutional right to trial (where the charges of course must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt).  Some judges will not accept a plea (a requirement) if the defendant insists on innocence.

3.  Delay.  By not taking a plea, the case eventually is set for trial and related proceedings before then, delaying resolution of the case.  Whereas a plea may end the case in a month or two, trial may extend it out a year or more (and even more for appeals).

4.  Trial may result in a better outcome.  Although most criminal trials (state and federal) end up with the defendant losing - by something like over a two to one average - good facts, good law, good evidence, a lack of bad evidence, a good defense strategy etc., and a good lawyer, may justify "rolling the dice" with a trial.

5.  Strange things happen when trial is set, and it usually favors the defendant.  In the run-up to trial, witnesses move away or otherwise become unavailable, evidence gets lost, laws change (think of the marijuana laws), the defendant has the chance to make a more favorable impression etc. - all potentially resulting in a better offer or even dismissal of charges.  During trial, all kinds of things happen with witnesses and evidence and rulings that inject new (usually more favorable because it can't get much worse for the defendant by then) dynamics into the case, further justifying the risks of trial.

6.  Send a message to the prosecution.   Many defendants finds themselves repeatedly in court facing criminal charges.  The plea offers get worse and the convictions pile up.  In those situations sometimes defendants simply have to decide when to fight (via trial) rather than whether to fight.  Prosecutors generally would much rather resolve a case with an easy plea than do all the work associated with trial.  Sometimes trial is the best place and time to stand and fight.

7.  Preserve an appellate argument.  Before trial the judge usually is called upon to rule on various evidentiary matters - what evidence can or cannot come in at trial for instance.  Plea deals typically cut off the case from further review so any perceived errors in those rulings basically are waived.  In drug cases for example, search and seizure rulings early on can determine the outcome of the case.  Trial may be necessary to preserve ruling errors for appellate review and possibly reversal (i.e. if the drugs are thrown out, the case might be too).

     Of course every case is different.  Criminal defense, like all litigation, is a dynamic process, frequently changing to favor one side or the other.  Call Sanderson Law, P.C., 303-444-8846, when you need experienced representation in criminal or civil cases.  Sanderson Law, P.C.  Experience + Personal Service = Success.

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