Monder Law Group - News
As criminal courts become ever more crowded, prosecutors and judges feel increased pressure to move cases quickly through the system. Trials can take days, weeks or sometimes months while guilty pleas can often be arranged in minutes. Also, the outcome of any given trial is usually unpredictable — but a plea bargain provides both prosecution and defense with some control over the result.
For these reasons and others, and despite its many critics, plea bargaining is very common. More than 90% of convictions come from negotiated pleas, which means that less than 10% of criminal cases result in a trial. And though some still view plea bargains as secret, sneaky arrangements that are antithetical to the people’s will, the federal government and many states have written rules that explicitly set out how plea bargains may be arranged and accepted by the court.
In theory, a plea bargain may be negotiated at any time after arrest. In practice, however, the time to plead depends on the court and the jurisdiction — some jurisdictions allow plea bargains only during certain phases of the criminal process. In many other places, however, plea bargains can be worked out virtually any time — from shortly after the defendant is arrested (before the prosecutor files criminal charges) up to the time a verdict is reached — even during trial itself. Also, if the trial results in a hung jury (the jurors are split and cannot make the unanimous decision required), the prosecution and defense may (and often do) negotiate a plea rather than go through yet another trial.
Defendants’ Incentives for Accepting Plea Bargains:
Getting out of jail. Defendants who are held in custody — who either do not have the right to bail or cannot afford bail, or who do not qualify for release on their own recognizance — may get out of jail immediately following the judge’s acceptance of a plea. Depending on the offense, the defendant may get out altogether, on probation, with or without some community service obligations. Or, the defendant may have to serve more time but will still get out much sooner than if he or she insisted on going to trial.
Resolving the matter quickly. This has the intangible benefit, touched on above, of providing resolution to the stress of being charged with a crime. Going to trial usually requires a much longer wait — and causes much more stress — than taking a plea bargain.
Having fewer or less-serious offenses on one’s record. Pleading guilty or no contest in exchange for a reduction in the number of charges or the seriousness of the offenses looks a lot better on a defendant’s record than the convictions that might result following trial. This can be particularly important if the defendant is ever convicted in the future. For example, a second conviction for driving under the influence (DUI) may carry mandatory jail time, whereas if the first DUI offense had been bargained down to reckless driving, there may be no jail time for the “second” DUI.
Even for people who are never rearrested, getting a charge reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor, or from a felony that constitutes a strike under a “three strikes” law to one that doesn’t, can prove to be a critical benefit. Some professional licenses must be forfeited upon conviction of a felony. Future employers may not want to hire someone previously convicted of a felony. Felony convictions may be used in certain court proceedings (even civil cases) to discredit people who testify as witnesses. Felons can’t own or possess firearms. And, in many jurisdictions, felons can’t vote.
Having a less socially stigmatizing offense on one’s record. Prosecutors may reduce charges that are perceived as socially offensive to less-offensive charges in exchange for a guilty plea. For example, a prosecutor may reduce a molestation or rape case to an assault. This can have a major impact on the defendant’s relationship with friends and family. Perhaps even more critical, sometimes defendants convicted of stigmatizing offenses may be at a greater risk of being harmed (or killed) in prison than if they are convicted of an offense that doesn’t carry the same stigma.
Avoiding hassles. Some people plead guilty — especially to routine, minor first offenses — without hiring a lawyer. If they waited to go to trial, they would have to find a good lawyer and spend both time and money preparing for trial.
Avoiding publicity. Famous people, ordinary people who depend on their reputation in the community to earn a living, and people who don’t want to bring further embarrassment to their families all may chose to plead guilty or no contest to keep their names out of the public eye. While news of the plea itself may be public, the news is short-lived compared to news of a trial. And rarely is a defendant’s background explored in the course of a plea bargain to the extent it may be done at trial.
Keeping others out of the case. Some defendants plead guilty to take the blame (sometimes called the “rap”) for someone else, or to end the case quickly so that others who may be jointly responsible are not investigated.
If you have any questions about accepting a guilty plea in San Diego contact San Diego Criminal Defense Attorney Vik Monder at 619.405.0063 or visit San Diego Criminal Defense