Declining A Plea Deal Comes With The Potential For A More Severe Outcome During A Trial, But It Allows for the Possibility of Being Found Not Guilty And Escaping A Formal Conviction.
When you are facing criminal charges, the prospect of a plea bargain can feel like a double-edged sword. In short, while plea bargains can take different forms, they typically involve accepting some guaranteed consequence and entering an admission of guilt in exchange for avoiding a trial and a potentially much harsher sentence. Avoiding a criminal trial can also have the positive effect of lightening the docket of prosecutors and the court system so that they can focus on the most serious cases and those in which a plea bargain cannot be reached. However, when presented with a plea bargain, it is critical that defendants understand all of their legal rights and the benefits and consequences of accepting the plea bargain.
Understanding the Complex World of Plea Bargains in Criminal Law
A plea bargain is an agreement between a criminal defendant and the prosecutor, in which the defendant agrees to plead guilty or nolo contendere (no contest) to one or more of the criminal charges against them in exchange for the benefit of the dismissal of other charges, a reduced sentence, probation, or a reduced charge. In New Jersey, there are several types of plea bargains, including a charge bargain, sentence bargain, count bargain, or fact bargain. Each of these types of bargains involves both sides compromising so that they can avoid the time, costs, and uncertainty involved in a trial.
In a charge bargain, the defendant is usually offered the opportunity to plead guilty to a lesser charge than the original charge against them. The advantage for the defendant is they avoid the possibility of a guilty verdict for a higher charge at trial, which would potentially result in a more significant sentence. However, in accepting the plea offer, they also guarantee that they will pay some price for the lesser charge, giving up the chance that they may be found not guilty for the entire matter.
In some cases, a count bargain may be offered involving charges for multiple offenses. In this type of agreement, the defendant pleads guilty to one or more of the charges in exchange for other charges against them being dismissed by the prosecutor. A defendant and the prosecutor can also agree to what sentence the defendant will serve in exchange for a guilty plea from the defendant in a sentencing bargain.
Finally, in certain situations, a defendant may agree to stipulate certain facts of the case. While this obviously lightens the burden of proof for prosecutors, it can also benefit the defendant in many situations by helping them avoid mandatory minimum sentences for charges that would apply to different facts.
Challenges and Benefits of Plea Bargains in the Realm of Criminal Defense
Turning down a plea bargain comes with an increased risk of an even less desirable outcome but also the possibility of a much better outcome if found not guilty at trial. Not taking a plea offer is a gamble that you could win or lose. The main benefits of accepting a plea offer and entering a guilty plea are typically a reduced sentence and the gift of certainty. Accepting a plea bargain also saves time, money, and stress, while usually allowing you increased opportunity to focus on rehabilitation.
On the other hand, they call it a bargain for a reason. There is a potential downside to accepting a plea bargain, most notably the guarantee that you will receive some form of punishment as a result of the requirement to admit guilt, whether or not you are really guilty or not. Your guilty plea and conviction will create a criminal record that can have negative effects on your ability to obtain employment and/or housing in some situations. Finally, you will lose your chance to defend yourself from the allegations against you and have very limited grounds for appeal.
When you are presented with a plea offer, the other option is to reject it and enter a not-guilty plea. By doing so, you can maintain your innocence and preserve your right to trial. At trial, the prosecution will have the burden of proving each element of the charges against you beyond a reasonable doubt. This preserves at least some chance that you will be found not guilty, acquitted of the charges against you, and not be sentenced at all.
If you reject a plea bargain, it comes with an increased risk of a more severe sentence. All of the details of your case will be made public, and the process can be emotionally draining.
Make Informed Choices About Plea Offers in Criminal Cases
Deciding whether to accept or reject a plea offer from the prosecutor is a huge and potentially life-altering decision. It is critical that you consult with your attorney so you can make the best, most informed decision for your circumstances. Generally, cases where a defendant may want to seriously consider a plea offer are cases where the prosecution has very strong evidence, the defendant stands to gain a lot from taking the offer compared to the risks of going to trial, they have limited resources, and they are not willing to take the chance of going to trial, being convicted of potentially high charges, and serving out a harsher sentence.
The Stain of Pleading Guilty on Criminal Records Affecting Future Opportunities in NJ
Plea bargains that require a defendant to plead guilty have the potential to negatively impact the defendant’s future employment and housing opportunities. Any charges that are dismissed pursuant to the plea agreement will not result in a conviction for those charges on the defendant’s record. The record of the arrest, however, will still be there unless it is expunged.
If a defendant pleads nolo contendere (no contest) in which they neither claim innocence nor guilt, that will be reflected as a conviction on their record. Conviction records can potentially be expunged if the defendant meets all requirements for expungement after the statutory wait time has passed.
Explore The Implications of Accepting a Plea Bargain with the Attorneys at Our West Long Branch Office
Deciding whether to take a plea offer can be nerve-wracking because you don’t want to make the wrong call. Such a big decision requires the counsel of a criminal defense lawyer at Chamlin, Uliano & Walsh, who is deeply familiar with your case and can explain to you in detail every possible consequence and benefit. Furthermore, we can closely examine the evidence against you and provide you with an informed legal opinion about your likelihood of success at trial, which will significantly help to inform your decision. Best of all, our seasoned criminal defense attorneys will negotiate with the prosecution to try to get you a better plea deal than the one initially presented to you.
Contact us if you have questions about criminal charges and how plea negotiations may apply to your case in Holmdel, Freehold, Red Bank, Little Silver, Asbury Park, or elsewhere in Ocean and Monmouth County. Contact us at 732-440-3950 or set up your appointment for your consultation online.