When people are charged with committing a crime, it is common for the prosecution to offer them a plea deal or the option to participate in deferred prosecution instead of having the case go to trial. Recent data from the United States Sentencing Commission shows that only three percent of criminal cases are resolved at trial, and that the remaining 97 percent were resolved without going to trial. Given how common plea deals and deferred prosecutions are, it is important you understand what they involve and the pros and cons of each if you have been charged with a crime.
First, it’s helpful to understand the difference between a deferred prosecution and a plea deal. With a deferred prosecution, individuals do not plead guilty, but rather agree to participate in a program that allows you to seek counseling or other treatment instead of facing prosecution. If you complete your treatment successfully your charges will be dismissed. With this option, statements you make to law enforcement prior to entering in the trial or program can be used against you.
With a plea agreement, you plead guilty in exchange for a lighter sentence, and the judge decides whether to approve this agreement. Statements you make during plea agreement discussions that are incriminating cannot be used against you if you later decide not to accept the agreement.
Why would someone accept a deferred prosecution or plea deal instead of choosing to be tried by a jury of their peers? Isn’t it always better to have the chance of getting a “not guilty” verdict? Unfortunately, not always. Trials can have uncertain outcomes and can also result in harsher sentencing than you might get with a plea agreement or deferred prosecution.
Prosecutors are often willing to significantly reduce the harsh sentence you might otherwise receive as a result of a trial in exchange for you agreeing to plead guilty. This is because courts are crowded with cases, and the more cases that prosecutors can settle without having to expend significant time and resources on, the better for their staffing and budgets. Further, good prosecutors may also recognize that, even if you committed a crime, the circumstances of your case do not warrant as harsh a punishment as you are likely to get with a trial. It may be hard to believe if you have been charged with a crime, but many prosecutors do not believe in punishing everyone for a mistake or bad decision.
Of course, you have a lot to consider before committing to a plea agreement or deferred prosecution. One of the most important things to consider is whether a statement you make for this purpose can be used against you in the event that the prosecution later presses charges against you. Only an experienced and skilled attorney can help you make this determination, and you should never reach a decision about this on your own.
If you are charged with a crime and want to explore all of your options, the best thing you can do for yourself is to give Arizona Lawyers a call. We have advised clients in the Phoenix, Scottsdale, Mesa, Yuma, Flagstaff, and Glenndale areas, and are ready to help you. Contact us today.