Should I Just Plead Guilty and Avoid a Trial?

When a criminal defendant is confronting a criminal case and is slated to go to trial, it is the criminal defendant’s decision whether to proceed to trial or to plead guilty in order to avoid it. While his or her lawyer can provide information about the pros and cons of going to trial, the lawyer cannot generally make this decision for the client. However, before a criminal defendant decides to plead guilty, he or she should be aware of the consequences of this action and any alternatives.

- Disadvantages to Pleading Guilty

There are several disadvantages to immediately pleading guilty to a crime. Some of these disadvantages include the following:

If a criminal defendant decides to plead guilty, he or she may not have as much time to wait for sentencing. The case may move through the judicial system more quickly. However, this may not be best for some individuals who may need more time to get their affairs in order.

Sentencing can mean years in prison. Even if a long sentence is not in the cards for the criminal defendant, a conviction may change the person’s life. For example, the individual may have been able to maintain employment when he or she was merely charged with the crime, but employment contracts may dictate that the person will lose his or her job upon a conviction.

Plea Bargain
While many prosecutors may attempt to enter into a plea bargain with a criminal defendant in which the defendant is convicted under a less serious offense or receives a reduced sentence, some prosecutors may not make these agreements with criminal defendants that they believe will simply plead guilty. If a prosecutor does not have an incentive to enter into a plea bargain agreement with the defendant, he or she may not do so.

Therefore, pleading guilty could wind up causing a criminal defendant to lose a potential plea bargain that would offer better terms than a simple guilty plea. In some situations, it may be better for a criminal defendant to proceed toward a trial until he or she has a more favorable agreement in place.

Social Consequences
Individuals who are convicted of a crime may face immediate consequences upon conviction. For example, they may have to forfeit professional licenses. Finding future employment may be more difficult for an individual with a conviction on his or her record, especially a felony.

Other individuals may start to distance themselves from an individual who is convicted of a crime. Convictions of certain crimes may be used against an individual in civil proceedings, such as in a divorce or child custody action. If the individual has a chance to be found “not guilty,” he or she may opt to proceed to trial to potentially avoid these negative consequences.

- Advantages

A person facing criminal charges should also be aware of the advantages of pleading guilty. These mainly include the following:

A trial may take months or even years to be scheduled and tried. During this length of time, an individual may feel that he or she is in limbo as he or she dreads the commencement of the trial. Additionally, there may be multiple continuances that further push back this date. Even if the criminal defendant is found guilty of the crime, an appeal can make the process even longer.

If the criminal defendant has hired a private attorney, he or she can likely save a substantial amount of money in attorney fees by taking a plea. Lawyers typically will put in a significantly lower number of hours to effectuate a plea bargain than going to trial.

- Alternatives

A criminal defendant may have the option to pursue an alternative to a jail sentence through a plea bargain or arrangement with the court. For example, some individuals may be able to enter a diversion program if they are a first offender. In many situations, the defendant does not actually plead guilty because the goal is to keep the case off formal documents so that the criminal defendant can rehabilitate without the stigma of a conviction.

Once the defendant passes the program, the information may be erased. Other alternatives that may be available to criminal defendants is drug and alcohol counseling, group therapy, vocational training, community service or restitution. However, if an individual receives an alternative of this nature and does not follow the rules of the program, the individual’s original punishment may be instituted instead.

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Disclaimer: Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication at the time it was written. It is not intended to provide legal advice or suggest a guaranteed outcome as individual situations will differ and the law may have changed since publication. Readers considering legal action should consult with an experienced lawyer to understand current laws they may affect a case.

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