Entering a court room to defend yourself before a judge and jury is an incredibly stressful and (let’s face it) scary thing to do. Once a case has made it to trial, it’s very difficult to control the outcome; you might be acquitted, but if you’re found guilty, you could spend a long time in prison.
Because of the risks inherent in a trial, plea bargains are common, as the defendant can sometimes avoid the lengthier sentence that usually accompanies a guilty verdict. In fact, in 2013, 97 percent of federal cases were resolved through plea agreements. If this is a route you choose to take, it’s of utmost importance that you don’t accept just any plea bargain. You should always retain an experienced criminal defense attorney like Mark Panzavecchia to help you navigate this difficult process and make an informed decision.
To begin with, common cases like DUIs often come with pre-packaged plea agreements depending on your prior record. These standardized agreements are crafted by the district attorney’s office and there is usually very little wiggle room when it comes to negotiations. However, an experienced criminal lawyer can still make a difference because he will know how best to present your case and the degree to which the prosecutor may have flexibility.
Your attorney may be able to push for alternative sentencing terms that have already been deemed appropriate by the district attorney’s office. For instance, some prosecutors will allow slight changes to community service minimums. Additionally, in some locations, a defense attorney might be able to argue in favor of a restricted license or push for court mandated classes to be taken online so you don’t have to spend the time traveling to an actual classroom.
Taking on Negotiations Alone
In determining the best path forward it’s important to remember that anything you say during negotiations with a prosecutor could be used against you. So if you do decide to be a vocal part of the process, be sure to stick to the language of the deal while staying well away from the facts of the case. You don’t want to say something that contradicts your prior statements or runs counter to the facts.
In most cases, the prosecutor will pressure you to accept the plea bargain, which means you will have to plead guilty in a court of law – and that means a conviction on your record. A conviction should not be taken lightly, as it can affect one’s immigration status as well as your future career opportunities. Appealing a conviction based on a plea bargain rarely ever succeeds.
Withdrawing a guilty plea is no small task. You’ll have to file a motion and once you do, it’s up to a judge (in most cases) to either affirm or deny the motion.
Having an Attorney
Because of the risks and various concerns associated with a guilty plea, it’s a good idea to let an experienced attorney take the reins in negotiating the plea bargain. He or she will be able to effectively scrutinize the plea agreement, negotiate better terms and protect your rights. Your lawyer might even be able to show the prosecution a major weakness in the case against you. In some situations, this can result in the charges being dropped altogether.
If you are a defendant in a criminal case, do not hesitate to exercise your right to an attorney, even if you have already decided to plead guilty. Sadly, prosecutors usually are in a position of strength and can hold a tough sentence over your head to pressure you into a decision. That is why you need an attorney by your side – to even the playing field.