Deciding whether to take a matter to trial or to accept a plea deal is arguably the most important aspect of a case. After all, if you take the matter to trial and obtain a not guilty in a criminal or traffic case, there is no conviction, no court fines, and the charge is expungeable. But what if you lose? There are issues of jail time, license suspension, fines, and the conviction to worry about. If the facts of the case are not favorable, a plea deal may be appropriate. Perhaps there is no jail time with the deal offered and a minimum fine. As a result, the Commonwealth gets a conviction and you get your freedom…
The Plea Deal
Most cases are adjudicated by plea agreement between you (or through your attorney if you have one) and the Commonwealth. Sometimes taking the case to trial is risky and requires careful consideration. For example, in a reckless driving case, if the police have you on LIDAR going 83mph/55mph zone, and you have been offered a plea agreement to plead guilty to speeding at 74mph/55mph zone, your attorney will likely advise to accept the agreement even if you disagree you were traveling at that pace. The agreement will ensure you are not convicted of the misdemeanor and will reduce your exposure to DMV demerit points and insurance rate increases.
In other instances if, for example, you are charged with Grand Larceny, a felony, and there is a video showing the crime committed, with proper preparation, you may be offered a plea deal to plead guilty to Petit Larceny, a misdemeanor. While the misdemeanor would result in a conviction on your record, it is substantially better than being a convicted felon and greatly minimizes your risk for a long sentence since Grand Larceny exposes the Defendant to a period of incarceration of up to 20 years. Petit Larceny, on the other hand, has a maximum jail exposure of 12 months and the plea deal may not call for jail at all.
Talk to Your Lawyer
Discuss the possibility of a plea with your lawyer and whether it makes sense in your case. Some preparation may be needed to put yourself in a position where the prosecutor will agree to such a plea deal. Such preparation depends on the type of case and may include community service, driver improvement courses, anger management treatment, etc. Of course, there may be times where either you simply do not want a plea deal and/or your lawyer may advise against taking a plea and recommend taking the case to trial.
Sometimes, the facts of a case warrant a trial. Perhaps the plea deal offered is not any better than you’re likely to receive in a ruling from a Judge. For example, prosecutors hands are tied when it comes to DUIs. In many jurisdictions, they are simply not allowed to reduce a DUI to either reckless driving or improper driving and, generally, even if a judge convicts, the Defendant is not facing active jail (unless there’s an elevated blood alcohol level). Of course, there may also be favorable legal issues such as, in a DUI accident case, perhaps there were no witnesses and the cops did not show up until a few hours later. In that instance, let your lawyer go to battle.
Additionally, you may be charged by a citizen complaint in an assault case where there is no police officer involved but there’s an angry ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend trying to get back at you. These situations are ripe for trial and Judges should be made keenly aware of the animosity and may find the alleged victim’s allegation incredible and dismiss the case.
Consider your Options
Whichever avenue you take, be sure to carefully consider your options. Remember, if you’re in a District Court, you have the right to appeal a conviction and have a new trial in Circuit Court. Many things can happen on an appeal such as key witnesses for the Commonwealth not showing or moving. Here at the Letnick Law Firm, PLC, we have appealed DUI cases and by the time we got to trial, the breath-technician had retired and moved away. So, don’t be afraid to go to trial provided the risk is a calculated one made after careful consideration with your lawyer.