A significant part of a criminal defense attorney's job is to work toward the best resolution of a client's case. In many circumstances, that may be getting the charges dismissed, getting a felony charge reduced to a misdemeanor, or negotiating a favorable plea agreement that may include a withhold of adjudication. It may also include negotiating a plea where a client will serve probation instead of prison, which the client may have been facing originally.
Good plea agreements or positive outcomes to cases don't come automatically. Criminal defense lawyers work hard on behalf of their clients to expose weaknesses in the State's case. As a former prosecutor in Miami-Dade County, I believe that I have a distinct advantage as I was once in the position of those who I now fight against. I have an insider's perspective as to what constitutes a strong prosecution case, and what does not. Believe me, I use this knowledge, training, and experience to my clients' advantage at every opportunity.
However, sometimes the State of Florida can be stubborn. Sometimes you may encounter a prosecutor that does not want to negotiate. In a case where the evidence is not overwhelmingly against the client (which in that case it would be wise to work toward a plea agreement), the only right a client has is to take their case to trial.
The U.S. Constitution guarantees every accused person a right to a trial. Trials can be conducted before a judge (bench trial) or a jury (jury trial). The State of Florida must prove that you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This is a high standard that requires the jury or the judge to have an "abiding conviction of guilt." That is, the judge or jury cannot merely think you are guilty, they must be convinced of it.
Crimes that carry mandatory minimum sentences, such as aggravated assault with a firearm, DUI, any crime that qualifies for 10-20-Life enhancements, serious crimes such as murder, manslaughter, and armed robbery, or any crime that carries other enhancements due to the accused's status as a habitual felony offender may be a case that goes to trial due to the extremely high plea offer coming from the State. If the State is offering the accused many years in prison, it may be wise to take your chances and put the evidence before a jury.
As a former prosecutor, I can tell you that the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office consists of many layers of management. A division prosecutor does not have complete discretion when it comes to their cases. That is, many times, young prosecutors have to seek the permission of their supervisors in order to offer pleas that are below guidelines, or involve the waiver of a mandatory minimum sentence. While these cases may be weak in terms of evidence, the supervisors in the State Attorney's Office do not want to appear "soft on crime." For that reason, they may not permit the division prosecutors to offer reasonable pleas.
The decision to go to trial must be discussed with your criminal defense attorney. Remember, when you go to trial, you face the maximum penalty that your charge carries should you be found guilty. Click here to see what the maximum penalties are for various charges.
Plea offers are made with incentives in mind. The State wants the accused to plead guilty in order to close the case. In exchange, the State will offer the accused a sentence less than the maximum. If the accused elects to go to trial, plea offers are no longer available and the maximum penalty may be imposed if the accused is found guilty.
However, juries can be picky. If your case has weak or questionable evidence, a jury trial may be the best way to resolve the case, either with a verdict of not guilty, or a guilty-lesser charge to a misdemeanor.
I am a criminal defense attorney who practices in Miami and Broward, but I also have extensive trial experience from my days as a prosecutor. If your case ends up going to trial, I am always prepared to defend the accused before a jury.
If you have a case that may go to trial, call me today.