During a criminal case, the defendant might find themselves confused about pleading guilty or going to trial. Each of these decisions has its advantages and disadvantages, and it is wise to have a criminal lawyer on your side to help you make a choice.
Regardless, the situation requires expert help and should be settled only after evaluating both options. Below is a comprehensive outline of the advantages and disadvantages of pleading guilty or going to trial.
Pleading guilty is openly accepting that you committed a crime. Once the confession is made, the prosecution and defense attorneys inform a judge of your plea. The judge then organizes your no-contest appeal to be heard in an open court, and makes it part of the record.
Below are the advantages and disadvantages of pleading guilty:
Saves on Resources
Once you plead guilty, the case is practically over. This means that the time and resources typically spent on trial would not be utilized anymore.
By pleading guilty, your legal expenses will be far less than if you proceeded to trial. If you had been arrested, could not pay the bond, and were awaiting trial, you may be set free if there was no jail time associated with your crime.
Defendants will often accept plea bargains as it significantly reduces their jail time sentence, or charges to be paid. The defendant’s lawyer and the prosecutor agree on a punishment suitable for the crime, usually less than what they would receive if they went to trial.
Uncertainty of Trial
It is challenging to predict the verdict issued by the judge and jury. Moreover, the prosecutor may unravel new evidence which works against your case leading to a harsher sentence. Also, criminal trials tend to draw much public attention, but this could be avoided by pleading guilty.
Criminal Records and Innocence
Though innocent, some people may still plead guilty, thereby receiving harsh sentences and fines for crimes they did not commit. Pleading guilty means your case will not proceed to trial, where you may have been acquitted, consequently having no criminal record. However, the charges are automatically added to your record by pleading guilty.
Non-binding on Court
Pleading guilty is disadvantageous in states with statutory minimum sentences that cannot be reduced further. In such jurisdictions, pleading guilty might not do any good as the outcome will still result in a longer sentence.
Moreover, the judge listening to the case may reject the proposed penalty and impose a longer one. Unfortunately, pleading guilty does not always guarantee a lighter sentence.
Problems With the Prosecution’s Case
Sometimes, the prosecutor may offer a plea bargain if they realize they do not have a solid case. This may be caused by unreliable witnesses, and a lack of convincing evidence. Given these conditions, pleading guilty would mean accepting a penalty that may have a different outcome if it went to trial.
Going to Trial
When the defendant rejects the plea bargain, the case progresses to court. Here a judge and jury will listen to both teams’ testimonies and evidence. Read on to be familiar with the pros and cons of going to trial.
By turning down a plea bargain, the defendant provides more time for his legal team to prepare a counter for the allegations. During this time, defense lawyers gather more evidence and witnesses who could testify in their favor in court. If jail time is guaranteed, the defendant could use this time to get his affairs in order before the trial date.
Better Plea Bargain
While pleading guilty significantly reduces your punishment, it is sometimes not helpful as you could still receive the same sentence. In such a situation, turning down the plea bargain and proceeding to trial may be a better alternative. The prosecutor may offer a better deal if they believe a trial would be costly to them.
Innocence and Acquittal
If you are innocent, going to trial could help prove your innocence. In court, the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty by the prosecutor. This way, if everything works in your favor, you can get acquitted and avoid getting a criminal record.
Uncertainty of Trial
As mentioned before, the jury’s decision is challenging to predict. Going to trial places you at risk of undesirable verdicts or sentences. Moreover, you are unsure of the evidence and testimonies the prosecutor could present in court.
By going to trial, your legal team will be working for more hours gathering information needed to defend you in court. Since most attorneys have hourly rates, you will incur more costs in settling their fees.
Defendants who go to trial could receive the maximum legal penalty for their crimes. However, if the case is settled out of court, your lawyer and the prosecutor may agree on a less harsh punishment.
Before deciding whether or not to plead guilty or proceed to trial, evaluate both sides critically and choose one that will work in your favor. “Ensure you consult with your lawyer, as they are often familiar with the consequences of each step, and know the one that works best in your favor.” says attorney Andrew Lindsey.