Hollywood blockbusters and New York Times best-selling books like to give us the impression every criminal case is headed for trial. If you have recently been charged with a criminal offense, you may be concerned trial is your best – or only – option for resolving your case. The reality is only a small percentage of criminal cases are actually resolved at trial. Some are dismissed for one reason or another; however, the vast majority of criminal prosecutions are resolved through the negotiation of a guilty plea agreement. If you would prefer to avoid a trial, accepting a plea agreement may be the right decision for you. How do you know it is the right decision? Do you need a criminal defense attorney to negotiate a plea agreement on your behalf? How do you know it is a good plea agreement?
The Trial Myth
When was the last time you read a legal thriller which included a plea agreement instead of a jury trial? If you can’t remember, it is probably because there are very few. Plea agreements are hardly full of suspense and cliff-hangers like jury trials can be. In real life, however, the odds of your case ending in a jury trial are slim. If you did commit the offense for which you have been charged, your case will most likely end in a guilty plea. The risk both sides take when a case goes to trial is great because each side either wins big or loses big – there is no “half guilty” verdict. The cost of a jury trial for the State and the Defendant is also great, both in terms of time and money. The bottom line is there are a number of factors that provide an incentive to both the State and the defense to resolve a criminal prosecution through a negotiated plea agreement. Of course, if you did not commit the offense—if you are innocent – a guilty plea agreement is not an option.
Why Do I Need a Criminal Defense Attorney? Can’t I Just Accept the Plea Agreement the Prosecutor Offers Me?
To be clear, there is no law requiring you to retain the services of a criminal defense attorney. You may proceed pro se (without counsel) if you so choose. However, it is not in your best interest to go through a criminal prosecution without an attorney on your side. It is certainly not wise to try and negotiate your own guilty plea agreement nor is it a good idea to simply accept the first plea agreement offered to you by the prosecuting attorney. It is a myth that all plea agreements are the same. While it may be the case the prosecutor tends to start out with a “standard” plea agreement, most of the terms of a plea agreement are negotiable. Having an experienced criminal defense attorney negotiating those terms can make a significant difference in the end result. Some common terms that might be negotiable include:
- Diversion – an attorney might be able to get you accepted into a diversion program which would avoid a conviction on your record after successful completion.
- Jail time – your attorney may be able to negotiate a plea without any jail time or get the prosecutor to agree to reduce the jail time.
- Probation – the length, type, and terms of probation may be negotiated. Your attorney might get a reduced period of probation, non-reporting probation, and/or more lenient terms.
- Fines, fees, costs – a conviction can be expensive. Your criminal defense attorney may be able to get some of those costs reduced or waived altogether.
- License revocation – if your conviction threatens your ability to drive, your attorney may be able to get the prosecutor to agree to a reduced term of revocation or to a hardship license.
As you can see, the terms which may be negotiated on your behalf by your criminal defense attorney are significant. A favorable change in just one or two of these terms could make a huge difference in your life post-conviction, making it more than worthwhile to consult with a criminal defense attorney before accepting a plea agreement.
If you have been charged with a criminal offense in the State of Nebraska and are considering entering into a guilty plea agreement, it is certainly in your best interest to consult with an experienced Nebraska criminal defense attorney right away. 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.