In 2012, while writing for the majority in Missouri v. Frye, a case that established a defendant’s right to competent counsel when offered a plea bargain, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy stated plea bargains are “…not some adjunct to the criminal justice system, it is the criminal justice system.” And when you look at the sheer volume of these agreements, you’ll see there is truth to his statement. According to a 2018 study from the Pew Research Center, over 97 percent of federal convictions were gained by plea bargains and nearly 94 percent of state convictions were achieved this way.
So why do so many defendants accept plea agreements? We are sharing the five reasons a defendant accepts a plea bargain rather than have their case decided by a jury.
What Is a Plea Bargain?
First, before we delve into why a defendant would consider a deal, it’s important to know exactly what it is. A plea bargain is an agreement between the prosecutor and the defendant in which the defendant will plead guilty in exchange for reduced charges or a recommended reduced sentence. By doing this, the prosecution can close the case with a conviction. But what’s in it for the defendant?
5 Reasons for a Defendant to Accept a Plea Bargain
Whether or not a defendant committed a crime, they may find that accepting a deal is preferable to the uncertainty of going before a jury. Let’s look at these reasons.
Getting Out of Jail
If the accused is not granted or can’t afford bail, they may have to wait in jail for weeks or months before their case even goes to trial. Then, once the case goes to trial, the case could take weeks to conclude, and if the jury finds them guilty, there could be added months or years of time in prison. If the prosecutor offers a reduced charge with a lighter sentence, the defendant will not only get less time in jail than if they were convicted, they may even get out before the case would go to trial, especially if they are granted probation.
Preserving Their Professional License
In many professions requiring a license, including accountants, attorneys, and health professionals, having a felony conviction can lead to the loss of a license. If a professional is charged with a felony and the prosecutor offers to drop the charge to a misdemeanor, they may be more inclined to accept the plea bargain rather than risk losing their license if they are convicted.
For defendants who choose to hire a criminal defense attorney, they may be concerned about the cost of a trial. However, a plea bargain can be negotiated between the prosecution and defense much more quickly, resulting in lower costs.
Reducing Social Stigma
In cases involving sexual assault or similar crimes, a conviction doesn’t just include a lengthy prison sentence, those convicted must have their information published on a sex offender registry and face ostracization from friends, family, and the community. Often, prosecuting attorneys will reduce the charges to assault or something similar in order to secure a guilty plea, and the defendant will not have to register or face the significant social consequences of a sexual crime.
There’s no question that being charged with a crime and facing an uncertain trial places a significant amount of stress on not only the defendant but their family. By accepting a plea bargain, the defendant can end the uncertainty and wait and get a resolution so they and their family can more quickly put the matter behind them.
Speak with a Defense Attorney 24/7
It’s important to never take a plea agreement without having legal representation. When you need a criminal lawyer in Raleigh, reach out to the experienced team at Sandman, Finn & Fitzhugh. We will provide you with personalized guidance, help negotiate plea deals or fight for you in court, depending on the unique factors of your case. For a free consultation, call us at (919) 887-8040 or fill out the form below to get started.