If you are facing criminal charges, you will be required to attend numerous court hearings before the trial. Depending on how those hearings go, the prosecutor may offer you a plea bargain in exchange for a lenient sentence or other benefits.
While it may seem that anyone facing criminal charges can benefit from accepting a plea bargain, it is important to understand the pros and cons of plea bargaining in Texas before accepting the prosecutor’s offer.
Consult with a Williamson County criminal defense attorney to understand your options. Your lawyer will help you understand whether or not you should accept a plea bargain in your particular situation.
What is a Plea Bargain?
A plea bargain is an agreement offered by the prosecution to the defendant and their attorney in exchange for certain benefits. When a defendant accepts a plea bargain, they will either plead “guilty” or “no contest.”
In exchange for the guilty or no contest plea, the prosecution will usually agree to:
Drop criminal charges
Reduce charges to a lesser offense
Recommend a lenient sentence
Typically, the prosecutor and the defendant’s counsel conduct plea negotiations before the criminal case goes to trial. Accepting a plea bargain is a big step for anyone facing criminal charges in Texas because the defendant is essentially admitting their guilty.
For this reason, it is critical to weigh all the pros and cons of plea bargaining and consult with a defense lawyer before accepting the proposed plea bargain.
What Are the Pros of Accepting a Plea Bargain?
If you have been charged with a crime in Texas, you may have the option of entering a guilty plea to get your charges reduced or dropped. Let’s discuss the advantages of accepting a plea bargain:
1. You Are Likely to Get Your Charges Dropped or Reduced
Accepting a plea bargain increases your chances of a lenient sentence. Often, prosecutors offer defendants to reduce or drop the charges in exchange for their guilty or no contest plea. As a result, if you enter a plea deal, you are likely to receive a reduced sentence than if your case goes to trial.
Typically, the prosecution will agree to reduce or drop criminal charges after the defendant accepts a plea bargain. For the sake of comparison, if your case goes to trial and you are found guilty, you will most likely face harsher penalties.
2. You Know What to Expect After Accepting a Guilty Plea
Trials can be very unpredictable. Anything could happen at your trial: you could receive the maximum sentence for your conviction or could be found not guilty. However, when you accept a guilty plea, you can get a more predictable outcome.
If you are represented by a skilled criminal defense attorney, they can help you work out the terms and conditions of your plea bargain to make the plea process more predictable and straightforward.
3. Your Criminal Case Will Be Resolved Faster with a Plea Bargain
The backlog of cases in criminal courts prevents criminal cases from moving through the criminal justice system fast. If your case goes to trial, you may have to wait months or even years before the court date because courts in Texas are overscheduled.
However, you can expedite the process by accepting a plea bargain. Entering a guilty plea allows you to resolve your criminal case much faster because you do not have to go to trial.
What Are the Cons of Accepting a Plea Bargain?
While there are several advances of accepting the prosecutor’s plea agreement, it is also essential to consider the cons of entering a guilty plea:
1. You Have to Forfeit Your Right to Trial by Jury
In all criminal proceedings, the accused enjoys the right to a speedy and public trial. The constitutional right is granted in the 6th Amendment. In other words, you have a right to take your criminal case to trial if you are being accused of a criminal offense in Texas.
When your case goes to trial, the prosecutor must prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt to secure a conviction. The jury will then have to unanimously agree that the defendant is guilty to convict the accused.
2. A Guilty Plea Will Lead to a Conviction
Once you accept the prosecutor’s plea bargain, you cannot be acquitted of the crime because you admit your guilt. If you are represented by an experienced and reputable criminal defense attorney, you may have a chance of obtaining a “not guilty” verdict.
Accepting a plea bargain, on the other hand, will also lead to a conviction, though the prosecutor may agree to lower the sentence.
3. It Is Difficult to Appeal a Conviction After Accepting a Plea Deal
Pleading guilty to a crime makes it more difficult – or even impossible in some cases – to appeal your conviction. By contrast, if you take your criminal case to trial and a jury finds you guilty, your lawyer may be able to appeal the conviction.
The court may schedule a new trial if the appeal is successful. If there is a new trial, the prosecutor will once again have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty, but they will be presenting their case to a new jury.
However, it is worth mentioning that not all convictions are appealable. Some reasons to appeal a conviction include:
The prosecution lacked sufficient evidence to secure a guilty verdict
There is an error in the conviction or penalty
The jury considered inadmissible evidence
The judge imposed a cruel or unusual punishment (the 8th Amendment right)
The prosecutor engaged in prosecutorial misconduct
Once you enter a guilty plea, you may not be able to appeal the conviction. Either way, it is important to contact an experienced attorney to help you appeal your conviction regardless of whether you pleaded guilty, no contest, or took your case to trial.Speak with our Williamson County criminal defense attorneys at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard to discuss your case and determine whether you can benefit from pleading guilty in your unique situation. Call (254) 220-4225 to get a consultation.