Will My Criminal Case Go to Trial?
Courtroom dramas on TV or in the movies often show a person being charged with a crime and having their case go to trial. These depictions may cause many to believe that most, if not all, criminal matters are resolved in court.
But that’s not necessarily true. A majority of cases are settled through a plea bargain, which we’ll discuss more later. Whether your criminal case goes to trial really depends on your situation.
What Happens at a Trial?
A trial is where the prosecutor (the person bringing the charges on behalf of the government) attempts to prove that you are guilty. They do this by introducing various pieces of evidence, such as witness testimony or tangible objects.
At the same time, your criminal defense attorney will be working to protect your rights and punch holes in the prosecutor’s arguments. Your lawyer might file motions or make objections to prevent the prosecutor from using certain pieces of evidence against you. They may also present their own evidence to counter the prosecutor’s allegations.
A judge or jury will decide the outcome of your trial. They weigh the evidence introduced by both sides and determine whether the prosecutor proved guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
What’s a Plea Deal?
A plea deal is an alternative method for resolving a criminal case. Essentially, it’s an agreement between you and the prosecutor. Your defense attorney will negotiate with the prosecutor to seek a favorable outcome through a plea deal, which can help you avoid or minimize some of the penalties you faced for the alleged crime.
In exchange for your pleading guilty, the prosecutor might agree to:
- Pursue lesser charges,
- Drop one or more of the charges against you, or
- Recommend a reduced sentence.
Generally, a plea deal is arranged when the prosecution has a strong case against the accused and would likely obtain a guilty verdict if the case went to trial. Yet, it can also be negotiated if the prosecutor wants the defendant’s cooperation in a separate matter. Greater leniency may be granted in exchange for the individual’s help.
Plea deals typically happen at the early stages of a criminal case. That said, a bargain between the defense and prosecution can be struck at nearly any time.
Note that when you accept a plea deal, you agree to plead guilty to the alleged offense. Thus, like being found guilty at trial, a plea deal will result in a conviction on your criminal record.
How Does a Plea Deal Differ from a Trial?
Many differences exist between plea deals and trials. One of the most notable is that your case will likely not be heard by a judge or jury (although a judge will have to approve the bargain your lawyer and the prosecutor arranged). It’s tough to predict how the finders of fact will analyze and interpret evidence to determine whether the prosecutor met their burden of proof. In a way, you have more control over what happens in your case than if you left the decision up to a judge or jury.
Plea bargaining is also more efficient than a trial. If your case goes to court, it might take weeks, months, or even years to resolve. In contrast, while negotiations might be lengthy, a plea deal can allow your matter to be settled within hours or days. Because of this efficiency, the overwhelmed justice system can process more criminal cases when they’re resolved through bargaining than when they go to trial.
Accepting a plea deal may also be more cost-effective than going to court. If your case goes to trial, you might have to pay court fees and other costs, which can be thousands of dollars.
The sentences imposed on a plea deal and a guilty verdict may differ. Typically, the penalties are harsher when a case goes to trial and the defendant is convicted. That’s usually because the prosecutor has quite a degree of discretion when negotiating sentences with the defense.
How Many Cases Are Resolved Through Plea Deals?
As noted earlier, not many criminal cases actually go to trial. Most are resolved through plea deals.
Although exact numbers do not exist, studies estimate that more than 90% of criminal cases overall are settled through plea bargains. At the state level, about 94% of felony cases result in convictions because of deals struck with the prosecution.
How Do I Know If I Should Accept a Plea or Go to Trial?
Accepting a plea deal is not a decision that should be made lightly. Yes, you might face lesser charges or sentences, but you might also be giving up a lot.
When you accept a plea deal, you give up your Sixth Amendment right to a trial. Depending on your situation, you might also be giving up your right to appeal the judgment or sentence.
Also, a plea deal means you are pleading guilty, which means a conviction. Although you might want to avoid going through a lengthy and costly trial, you could obtain a more optimal outcome by presenting your case before a judge or jury.
Unfortunately, some people accept plea bargains because of coercion from police officers or prosecutors trying to get cases over with quickly. Or the individual might not have access to a lawyer or the resources to take their case to trial. Sadly, this can result in innocent people accepting responsibility and penalties for crimes they did not commit, according to The Innocence Project.
Whether you should accept a plea or go to trial is not something that can be discussed in a blog. Every case is different, and various considerations must be made about how it proceeds.
Your criminal defense attorney can help you decide on a path forward. They can give advice and guidance based on their experiences under similar circumstances and after thoroughly reviewing and analyzing the prosecutor’s case against you as well as the deal proposed.
Contact a Lawyer Today
If you have been charged with a crime in Rhode Island, retain the services of an attorney with trial experience. Although most cases are resolved through plea deals, it’s possible that yours must be presented in court. Thus, it’s critical to have an attorney ready to stand up for you whatever course your case takes.
At The Law Office of Thomas C. Thomasian, Esq., Tom Thomasian is an experienced negotiator and litigator. He was also voted a Top 100 Criminal Defense Trial Lawyer. He can deliver the counsel you need.
Schedule a consultation by calling (401) 312-4385 or submitting an online contact form.