Hollywood and best-selling novels tend to glorify the legal system, or demonize it. Either way, they certainly sensationalize it. One thing they almost uniformly get wrong is the idea that most, if not all, criminal prosecutions end in a trial. In the real world, only a small percentage of criminal cases actually go all the way to trial. Consequently, criminal lawyers spend a good portion of their time and energy negotiating plea agreements for clients. If you have been arrested and charged with a criminal offense, and have decided you do not wish to take your case to trial, you may think you do not need a criminal defense attorney. Nothing could be further from the truth. Because criminal lawyers routinely negotiate plea agreements, you need an advocate on your side to ensure your plea agreement is as favorable to you as possible.
The Criminal Prosecution Process
If you have never been arrested before, you may be confused and intimidated by the criminal justice system. The first thing you should know is how the prosecution process works so you will know what to expect. Your first appearance in court will be your initial hearing, also referred to as an arraignment. At that time, the judge will make sure you understand the charges against you and will explain your rights as a defendant. You will also be asked to enter a preliminary plea at that time. Sometimes, if your charges are relatively minor, the prosecuting attorney will even approach you before the hearing and offer you a plea agreement. While you can accept a plea agreement at your initial hearing, it is rarely, if ever, advisable to do so. You definitely should not accept a plea agreement without first consulting with an attorney. Which brings us to the next issue at an initial hearing. The judge will likely discuss with you your plans to hire an attorney. Some people make the mistake of telling the court they don’t plan to hire an attorney if they have already made the decision to plead guilty to the charges. Again, this is a bad idea. First, it makes you vulnerable to the prosecution, who now knows you do not have the benefit of legal counsel. Second, consulting with an experienced criminal defense attorney is critical to ensure you receive a favorable agreement.
After the initial hearing, your case will either be set for a pre-trial conference or put on the trial calendar. Do not worry if the court sets your case for trial. After you hire an attorney, he or she can change that date and/or set your case for a guilty plea hearing instead. If you do ultimately decide to plead guilty, you will do so in court with your attorney present.
Why Do You Need an Attorney to Negotiate a Plea Agreement?
You have already decided to accept a plea agreement, so why should you waste money hiring an attorney? This is a common way of thinking that, while understandable, typically produces less than ideal results for the defendant. Contrary to what many defendants think, all plea agreements are not the same. In fact, almost every term in a plea agreement is potentially open for negotiation. While it may be true that the prosecutors start with a “boilerplate” plea agreement they offer to defendants when the charges are relatively minor, you do not have to accept the initial agreement offered to you. When the charges are more serious, even an initial agreement is likely personalized and also open to negotiation. Criminals lawyers negotiate plea agreements all the time. As such, just some of the things they may be able to accomplish on your behalf include:
- Less time in jail/prison
- Less time on probation
- Acceptance into a diversion program that will avoid a conviction if completed successfully
- Non-reporting instead of reporting probation
- The chance to terminate probation early
- Dismissal of charges if you plead to another charge
- Fewer conditions while on probation
- Driver’s license reinstated sooner
- Lower fine
Even if your defense attorney only manages to negotiate one or two of these benefits on your behalf, it would be worth hiring him/her. However, they can often negotiate several of these benefits for a defendant, making it a wise choice to hire an attorney before accepting a plea agreement.
If you are currently facing criminal charges in Nebraska, it is certainly in your best interest to consult with an experienced Nebraska criminal defense lawyer 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 lawyer.