The decision to accept a plea bargain belongs to the defendant. Your St. Augustine criminal defense lawyer brings objectivity and experience to the decision-making process; however, it is you, the defendant, who has to live with the decision. What factors should you consider in deciding whether to accept the prosecutor’s plea offer or take your chances at trial?
The stress and uncertainty of a trial
Consider whether you can live with the stress and uncertainty that comes with waiting for a trial date and, later, waiting for the jury’s verdict. If so, then you may want to reject the plea. If, on the other hand, the stress and uncertainty of a trial is negatively affecting your physical, mental and/or emotional health, a plea bargain may be a better option.
Future employment opportunities
All convictions are harmful when you are seeking employment, but a felony conviction can be an absolute no-go for many employers. If the plea agreement allows you to plead to a misdemeanor instead of a felony, or offers deferred prosecution, then you may want to accept in order to preserve future employment opportunities.
Reduced jail time
Through a plea agreement, your active prison time can be reduced or eliminated in three ways;
- Stipulate to probation instead of prison or jail time;
- Plead to a lesser charge that has lesser penalties;
- Plead to the original charge, but stipulate to a limited penalty.
A word of warning about probation: Be sure you understand the conditions of probation. For example, does it include community service, fines, classes, or drug testing? Will your home be subject to inspection and visitation from a probation officer?
Unfortunately, people with substance abuse issues often have trouble with probation. District Attorneys know this. The District Attorney’s calculation might be, “I just have to wait a little longer, and I will have another charge to hang on the defendant.” Often district attorneys are happy to agree to probation because they know it has a back end; probation violations are easier to prove than the original charge. Accordingly, be honest with yourself and your St. Augustine criminal defense lawyer about substance abuse issues and any other issues that might impact your ability to comply with the terms of probation.
The strength of the evidence against you
Perhaps most importantly, before a decision is made on accepting or rejecting a plea offer, weigh the evidence against you. Weighing the evidence is not an exact science, but an objective and experienced St. Augustine criminal defense lawyer is indispensable in this process. You and your attorney must assess the evidence for its truthfulness and probative value – that is, how much bearing a particular piece of evidence has on the charges against you. Likewise, how reliable are the witnesses who might testify against you? Can a witness be discredited because he was intoxicated at the time of the alleged crime? Does another witness have an axe to grind against you that makes him biased and untrustworthy? Your attorney also will examine the record to determine if the police obtained the evidence in a legal manner. Evidence gathered improperly can often be suppressed and will not come in at trial.
If you or a loved one is facing criminal charges, or if you are being investigated and suspect that criminal charges may be imminent, you need a St. Augustine criminal defense lawyer you can trust. Call us today, at 904-824-9402, to arrange a confidential case evaluation.