Should I take a plea deal? How do I know if a plea deal is good?
Accepting a plea agreement means giving up any chance of winning the trial, and being stuck with a criminal conviction forever. Rejecting the offer could lead to more severe consequences than the plea offer if trial does not go well. The right decision depends on how the offer compares to the chances of winning the trial, and what the judge would likely do for sentencing if you lose.
Nobody knows for certain what would happen in court, but after preparing thoroughly for trial and sentencing, experienced attorneys can make predictions about the range of possibilities. You should discuss:
- The strength of any defenses to the charge(s).
- Whether there is any chance the charges could get worse if you reject the plea offer. Sometimes prosecutors realize when preparing for trial that there is a prior offense that could lead to an enhancement or additional charges. In those situations, the plea deal looks a little better.
- How the facts might influence the sentence if the judge convicts you.
- Your priorities. Two people might view the same plea offer differently depending on what penalties would affect their lives the most. For one person, the most significant consequence might be losing their driver’s license in the short term. For another, the long-term consequences on their life goals might be a bigger concern.
Since you would need to give up your chance of acquittal to accept it, a plea offer only has value if it guarantees something worth more to you than the chance of acquittal. For example, a driver with a good defense to an enhanced DUI charge might receive a plea offer to eliminate the enhancement and receive an entirely suspended jail sentence, and a restricted driver’s license that the court would not likely grant otherwise.
For some drivers, an offer like this might be good enough to accept. Others might be more concerned about the long-term consequences of a DUI conviction and choose to take their chances at trial. Either decision would be right if the driver understands the pros and cons of the plea agreement and has the information to assess the chances of success at trial.