Everyone has seen district attorneys offer ‘plea deals’ to fictional defendants on television, but people not on these shows often have to experience the situation first hand to understand everything these deals involve. From watching these shows, it’d be easy to believe that almost all cases went to trial, but in reality, only 4 percent of all state cases end up in front of a jury. This doesn’t mean that those accused of crimes in Michigan, however, should plead out. It’s first important to understand all of one’s options.
The fact of the matter is that plea bargaining is an integral part of the criminal justice system. The system needs people to plead down. This saves money on having to hold a criminal trial. When a prosecutor offers a plea deal, they have a few options in front of them. One option is to offer a lesser charge. An individual charged with assault, for instance, could instead plead guilty to disorderly conduct. This would secure the defendant a lesser sentence, a not-as-serious mark on their record, and it would also save the court time and money.
Similarly, a prosecutor could offer to drop specific charges in exchange for a guilty plea on another. A person charged with stealing three cars, for instance, may be told that two of these charges will be dropped if he pleads guilty to one. Finally, a prosecutor could offer no dropping of charges at all but still offer a lesser sentence. In this case, an individual would have the choice of taking the lesser charge or going to trial and chancing a worse outcome.
Prosecutors will do anything they can to convince a person to take a plea deal. Sadly, this is sometimes even in cases where they don’t have much evidence. A person charged with a crime who seeks out legal assistance, though, may be able to better understand their options and reach a more positive conclusion.
Source: USC News, “Why innocent people plead guilty,” Gilien Silsby, April 18, 2014
Source: Findlaw, “Plea Bargains Overview“, November 20, 2014