An estimated 90 to 95% of all criminal cases end in plea deals. This reality is a stark contrast to the fantastic world of courtroom dramas, where criminal cases are often dragged out through a full trial. But what happens if you get arrested and get offered a plea deal? What should you do? Well, here are five things you should know about a plea deal, preferably before you are in a position to take one yourself:
- Plea deals are equivalent to convictions
- Legally speaking, there is no difference between a conviction at trial and a “conviction” through a plea deal. That means if you plead guilty to a crime as part of a plea deal, you need to report that on job applications, licensing applications, and anywhere else your criminal history would be relevant. This is especially important to remember for felony pleas, which can have profound consequences on many parts of a person’s life.
- Plea deals are typically more lenient than convictions at trial
- Plea deals are typically less stringent than what you would suffer if you were convicted at trial. This is a deliberate tactic used by prosecutors to convince people to take plea deals, since many people would prefer a guaranteed lesser punishment than risk a trial where they might get punished to the maximum the law allows. However, a plea deal is still typically much worse than what you would get if you went to trial and were acquitted.
- The first plea offer is often the worst for the defendant
- The first time you hear a plea offer from the prosecution will be either at the arraignment, or shortly thereafter. While it can be tempting to just accept the first plea deal you are offered, you should know that the first plea deal you are given is often the worst. This is because neither the prosecution nor the defense have really had a chance to collect evidence, interview witnesses, or exercise their full legal rights.
- The judge must accept a plea deal for it to be valid
- While a plea deal is so called because it is a deal between the prosecution and the defendant, these deals are not made unilaterally. The judge in charge of the case must approve any plea deal for it to be valid. While it is rare for a judge to object to a plea deal, it does happen from time to time, often because they disagree with the severity of the punishment in the plea.
- Plea deals are more difficult to appeal than trial verdicts
- While it is not impossible to appeal a plea deal once you have agreed to plead out your case, it is much harder to do than with a conviction at trial. This is because you are presumed to have had a good idea of what you pleaded to before you took the deal. That is why it is essential you get a strong legal defense early on, to avoid locking you into a plea deal you regret later.
If you or someone you know has been arrested for a criminal offense, you will need legal counsel to help you preserve your rights and work to get the best possible outcome for your matter. A New York criminal defense lawyer, who is experienced in handling criminal cases of all sorts, can advise you of your legal rights and will fight for your best interests in court. If you or your loved one has been arrested, contact the Suffolk County criminal defense attorneys at McGuire, Peláez and Bennett at (631) 348-1702.