Last month I spoke of the prosecutor’s discretion to charge a case. This month I would like to discuss the process of plea bargaining. No one will admit it on the record, but the criminal justice system is simply not set up to have every case go to trial. Each judge may have hundreds of cases on his or her docket at any given moment. These cases are derived from the prosecutor’s office, which in turn, received it cases from the various investigating police agencies within its jurisdiction. Because these cases keep coming on a daily basis, the system is designed to have a majority of these cases (over 90%) plead out, while just fewer than 5% actually go to trial.
How, you ask, can all these cases plead instead of going to trial? The answer is plea bargaining. Many factors go into the prosecutor’s decision to charge and what to charge. As mentioned last month, the primary factual basis used to charge a crime is the initial police report. But investigations, like many other things, are not always a stagnant thing that remains for eternity. As time goes on, witnesses change their version of what occurred, they move away and can’t be located, additional witnesses with a different version may appear, or other problems with the prosecutor’s proofs arise.
As a result of this ever evolving investigation and their objective to seek the truth, many prosecutors realize the crime initially charged is no longer the proper charge. Thus, with the urging from a good criminal defense attorney, a prosecutor could be persuaded to reduce (or even dismiss) a charge.
On the flip side, what is the incentive for pleading? Well, a good defense attorney will go over all of the options with you before you even entertain the thought of entering a plea. Can the prosecutor add additional charges that will only make things worse for you? Depending on the factual circumstances, this is always a possibility. Has the prosecutor offered a reduced deal that simply can’t be passed up? What are the ramifications of accepting the deal vs. going to trial?
Most judges despise trials! They are time consuming and create havoc on the overly burdened docket. Many judges put a great deal of pressure on the attorneys involved to resolve the case. Often incentives within the court’s discretion are offered to facilitate this. With that said, most judges realize some cases do go to trial if there is a genuine issue to dispute. For example, someone claims they weren’t present and didn’t do it presents a genuine issue for the jury to decide guilt or innocence. Other cases that offer no genuine issue to dispute are viewed as a waste of the court’s time. Since judges have discretion (sentencing guidelines) to work within should you be found guilty, they tend to be harsher on those that have “wasted” the court’s time. Additionally, judges tend to be harsher when “bad facts” are brought to light (such as defendant molested his 3 year old niece) this only adds to the judge’s furor when it comes time for sentencing.
There are a lot of factors that go into whether you should plead or not. A sharp defense attorney, such as those at Kronzek & Cronkright, will present you with all of your options and assist you in weighing the pros and cons before you decide to plead to a particular charge. I have a strong desire to see that your rights are protected and not lost in the mix. As a former prosecutor running a docket before many judges, I have a sense of what a prosecutor’s discretion can be. This experience is to your advantage especially when a plea to a reduced charge is in your best interest in lieu of a trial.
- United States Supreme Court Rules Defendant Had Right to Effective Assistance of Counsel When Accepting or Rejecting Plea Offer
- Drug Charges – New Trial for MI City Man Who Rejected Plea Bargain on Drug Charges
- MI Sex Crimes – Defendants: Has Your Sex Crime Lawyer Given You All The Facts (and Consequences) of Your Guilty Plea?