If you are facing criminal charges for the first time, you are undoubtedly feeling a wide range of emotions, including fear and confusion. The fear comes from worrying about the eventual outcome of your case while the confusion comes from trying to navigate the criminal justice system for the first time. You are also likely working with a criminal defense attorney for the first time, something that can also be a bit intimidating and sometimes confusing as well. Your attorney may have presented a guilty plea offer to you that was tendered by the prosecuting attorney and advised you to accept the agreement. Although the specific reasons for advising a client to accept a plea agreement will vary, there are some common factors that criminal attorneys will consider.
Criminal Prosecution Basics
Before discussing the reasons why accepting a guilty plea agreement might be advisable, it helps to go over some criminal prosecution basics. In the Unites States, we operate under a system wherein a person accused of a crime is presumed innocent unless proven guilty. Moreover, an accused must be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This means the prosecuting attorney has the burden in every criminal prosecution to prove a defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
In addition, an accused has a number of rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. Among the most important are the right against self-incrimination, the right to counsel, and the right to confront and cross-examine witnesses against you. In conjunction, the prosecutor’s burden and a defendant’s rights are intended to prevent innocent people from winding up in prison convicted of crimes they did not commit.
In a criminal prosecution, the prosecuting attorney is never required to offer a guilty plea agreement to the defendant; however, in most cases, he or she will make an offer at some point. For less serious crimes, the prosecuting attorney may make a plea agreement offer fairly early on in the case to try and save the State time and money. For more serious crimes, a plea offer may not be forthcoming until the prosecuting attorney has had more time to review the evidence, talk to witnesses, and decide how to proceed. At some point though, if a plea agreement is tendered, the defendant must do one of three things:
• Accept the plea agreement as is without any changes
• Enter into negotiations to modify the plea agreement as offered
• Reject the plea agreement and proceed to trial
Why Do Criminal Attorneys Advise Clients to Accept a Guilty Plea Agreement?
A criminal defense attorney’s job is to advise a client, not tell the client what to do. If a guilty plea agreement was tendered by the prosecution, a criminal attorney should first read through it carefully and explain all the terms to the client. Several factors then go into advising the client whether to accept the plea agreement, including:
• Does the client admit guilt? Many first-time defendants fail to understand that a plea agreement is not just a quick way to resolve the case. It is an admission of guilt, meaning the defendant must be prepared to admit his/her guilt to the court.
• Is the evidence against the client strong? Because the prosecuting attorney has the burden of proving guilt, there is very little reason for a defendant to accept a guilty plea agreement if the State has very little evidence against the defendant.
• Are the terms of the agreement reasonable? Sometimes an attorney may advise a client that entering into an agreement is in his/her best interest; however, the terms of the agreement presented are not acceptable. In that case, the attorney will suggest negotiating better terms.
Contact the Criminal Attorneys at Petersen Law Office
If you have been charged with a criminal offense in the state of Nebraska, it is in your best interest to consult with an experienced Nebraska criminal defense attorney right away to discuss possible defenses. In Nebraska, contact Petersen Criminal Defense Law 24 hours a day at 402-509-8070 to discuss your case with an experienced criminal defense attorney.