Plea Bargains: Accept or Reject?
When you are facing criminal charges, you’re also facing tough choices. Often, the outcomes of such choices are not clear, making it hard to know which ones will get you closer to a favorable outcome.
In a lot of Indiana criminal cases, one of the most urgent decisions defendants must make is whether or not to accept a plea deal. At any point in your case, the prosecutor may offer you a plea deal. This is an opportunity to reduce your chance of going to trial and having the court rule on your case – but there’s a catch.
By agreeing to the plea deal, you agree to either plead guilty to a lesser criminal charge or face some other structured offer that ultimately requires you to plead guilty. But you’re spared from having to go to trial and plead open to the court, which makes it harder to decide whether or not you should take your plea bargain.
Generally, accepting a plea deal means facing lesser penalties than you’d face without accepting the plea deal. In any circumstance, accepting a plea deal means you’re guilty in the court record and thus will face criminal penalties. But as part of the deal, you know exactly what to expect rather than going through the court process without knowing if you’ll be convicted and if so, what your sentence will entail.
In sum, plea bargains can give you a sense of control over your case and peace of mind as a result.
What to Consider When You Are Offered a Plea Deal
A plea deal gives you control over your case’s outcome. Accepting such an agreement enables you to know exactly what to expect in the courtroom rather than leaving your case up to the judge and jury. What many people don’t know is that a plea deal can come at any point in a case’s progress. You could be offered a plea bargain before your trial officially begins, during the discovery stage or any time afterward. Your lawyer might even suggest pursuing one and begin negotiations with the prosecution to develop a plea deal that fits your case.
Talk to your attorney about the possibility of pursuing and accepting a plea deal from the beginning of your time working together. From the start, you should be aware of all the possible outcomes for your case along with your legal options, as you may have options you weren’t aware of before.
When you are offered a plea deal, your lawyer will analyze the deal and discuss it with you to determine whether it is truly in your best interests. When the prosecution has a lot of evidence to find you guilty and your attorney believes that may be the outcome, accepting a plea deal can help you avoid severe penalties and keep a serious charge off your criminal record.
When the Indiana government’s evidence against you isn’t strong and there’s a likelihood you’ll be found not guilty, accepting a plea deal could mean the following:
- You seal your fate
- You lose the opportunity to keep fighting your criminal charges
- If you are found guilty, you cannot appeal the court’s ruling
A plea deal isn’t a one-way offer, either. Your criminal defense lawyer can respond to the prosecution’s plea bargain with suggested changes to make it more favorable for you. Remember, your lawyer’s job is to act in your best interests and achieve the best outcome possible for your case. Sometimes, this means working with the prosecution to craft a plea deal that fits the circumstances you’re facing.
Plea Deals Explained
There are other ways to structure a plea deal, two of which include:
- If you’re facing two or more criminal charges in Indiana, you might get offered a deal to plead guilty to just one of the charges.
- The State of Indiana might allow you the opportunity to agree to a lighter sentence than you otherwise would have faced as long as you agree to plead guilty.
Here’s an example of a plea deal:
You’re charged with possessing more than 30 grams of marijuana, a level 6 felony charge that can land you in prison for up to two and a half years if you’re convicted.
Instead of suffering such life-altering penalties, the court may offer to reduce your charge to a Class A misdemeanor, a charge you would face for possessing less than 30 grams of marijuana. This option carries a maximum jail sentence of one year, which is less than half the sentence you would otherwise face with a level 6 felony.
Why Do Courts Offer Plea Deals?
Put simply, trying a criminal case in court can be a lengthy and expensive process for both sides. The State of Indiana is just as interested in resolving your case as you are, and this is why plea deals are effective in reaching a mutually beneficial agreement between you, the defendant, and the government.
Offering defendants plea deals is a way for Indiana prosecutors to prepare for urgent trials and avoid a backlog of cases. Additionally, it lightens the load on court staff, the jury and the judge.
Other benefits of plea deals for Indiana courts include:
- Reducing the strain on overcrowded jails
- Protecting victims and witnesses from having to testify
- Offering an incentive for a defendant who can provide key testimony for another case
- Avoiding potentially losing the case
Just because a plea deal is a good deal for the State, doesn’t mean it’s a good deal for you. The prosecution might not have enough evidence to convict you of your charge and knowing this, may offer a plea deal as a way to avoid spending time and resources into a case they’ll likely lose.
The prosecutors’ best interests are irrelevant to you. When you’re facing a criminal charge, you need to act in your own best interests, which means choosing to accept a plea bargain or simply reject it. Don’t think that the prosecution is offering you a plea deal as a way to “be nice” or “help you out.” The prosecution is not there to cut you a deal or help you out and when they offer a plea deal, the offer is contingent on you losing the opportunity to defend your case and potentially be found not guilty.
Contact an Experienced Carmel Criminal Defense Lawyer Today
A plea deal isn’t a cut-and-dry thing. There’s no guarantee you’ll be offered one, and if you are, accepting it may or may not be in your best interests. An experienced criminal defense lawyer can accurately assess your circumstances and advise you on the best way to proceed with your case.
I am Attorney Eric Blankenship, a Carmel criminal defense attorney with nearly 20 years of legal experience that includes serving as a former prosecutor. This key insight into the other side of the court is particularly beneficial for your case because I know what strategies to utilize when negotiating your plea deal. I know how a prosecutor will plan and structure their plea deal in your case because I’ve been in their shoes before. It takes one to know one.