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Criminal Cases: Plead or Go to Trial?


If you’re facing criminal charges for the first time, you probably have a lot of questions going through your mind. Will you be incarcerated? Will you have to pay hefty fines? Will you be ordered to do community service? Will your case go to trial or will you enter a plea deal? For the purposes of this article, we’re going to address the last question concerning trials.

By far the majority of cases do not go to trial. Instead, they are resolved through plea bargains. The reasons for this are many but generally, it benefits the state and the defendant to negotiate a plea bargain rather than dragging a case out in court.

“More than 95 percent of all criminal convictions are the result of plea bargaining, a process in which a defendant pleads guilty in exchange for some sort of favorable treatment from the prosecutor. Pleading guilty leads to conviction and sentencing as well as possible probationary requirements and “collateral consequences,” such as losing eligibility for certain jobs, housing, or social services, that defendants must grapple with after completing their sentences,” according to the American Bar Association.

Who Decides What to Do?

Either side can offer a plea bargain. The prosecutor can put a deal on the table and so can the defense. If the prosecutor makes an offer, the defense attorney is obligated to present it to their client, and even if the defense lawyer thinks it’s a bad deal or that the defendant should not accept the offer, it’s ultimately the defendant who decides. However, defendants should not turn a blind eye to their attorneys’ advice. They should ask questions and make sure they fully understand their situation before deciding to accept or reject a plea deal.

Before a defendant decides to plead, he or she should know all of their alternatives and the likely consequences of each. In other words, the defense attorney should thoroughly explain all of the defendant’s options and the likely consequences of each one. This way, the defendant can decide to accept a deal or go to trial in an educated manner.