If you are in the unfortunate position of having been charged with a crime, you will likely be faced with a serious question: Do I accept a plea deal, or do I take my case to trial?
This is not a decision that should be reached lightly nor should it be based on pride. Many times, people charged with crimes feel like the police and prosecutors have treated them unfairly. Or perhaps they feel that the evidence is insufficient to convict. Maybe they feel that they are innocent of the charges.
The decision to take a plea or go to trial must be made with the assistance of an attorney, who can impartially guide you to the answer. Pride and emotions should play no part in your decision-making process. The stakes are simply too high.
If the plea will result in a dismissal (like Pretrial Intervention), you may want to consider the inconvenience and cost of the program versus the chance of being found guilty at trial. A Pretrial Intervention program, or Pretrial Diversion program for misdemeanors, will result in a dismissal of the charges upon your successful completion. While the facts of each case are different, most defendants will opt to participate in the program in lieu of going to trial.
The plea may involve probation. You will want to find out whether adjudication will be imposed or withheld. If imposed, you may become a convicted felon as a result of the plea, which will lead to you losing many rights, such as the right to own or possess a firearm, and the right to vote. If adjudication is going to be withheld, find out if the offense to which you are pleading can be sealed.
Also, make sure, if you are not a US Citizen, that you speak with an immigration attorney before pleading guilty or no contest to a criminal offense.
If the charge you are facing is more serious, diversion programs and probation may not be options. You may be looking at significant prison time due to the severity of the offense, and possibly due to your prior record.
Find out from you attorney if any mandatory minimum terms would apply. This means that if you are found guilty at trial, the judge would have to impose the mandatory minimum prison term, and could not deviate even if they wanted to.
If you are facing significant prison time, you may be offered a plea that entails less prison time than the maximum you would face at trial. If you are facing a mandatory prison term, perhaps the prosecutor will waive the mandatory minimum and offer you a shorter sentence in exchange for your guilty plea.
Again, you must decide this with your attorney after thoroughly considering the evidence against you.
Whichever decision you make, be certain that you have hired the right attorney to guide you, and in the event your case is going to trial, you have an attorney with trial experience.
When hiring a criminal defense attorney, don't be afraid to ask the attorney about their trial experience.
Eric Matheny is a criminal defense attorney serving Miami, Broward, and Palm Beach.