When most people think of the justice system, they think of trials. Our television shows and movies are full of courtroom scenes. They would have you think that lawyers, defendants, witnesses and jurors always dig for the truth in tense, dramatic encounters. But the truth is that most cases look nothing like that.
Nearly all criminal cases end in plea deals. In 2005, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that 95% of all federal cases resulted in guilty pleas. The numbers may have changed a little since then, and the numbers for Georgia may not match those federal numbers. Even so, you can bet the prosecutors on your case expect you to plead guilty.
That raises a question: Can a plea deal ever lead to justice? The numbers are stacked against you. The playing field is tilted in the prosecution’s favor. You don’t start with much leverage. But you can improve your situation by remembering five key tips.
Stand for your rights
Before you have a chance to negotiate with the prosecutors, you’ll have plenty of chances to shoot yourself in the foot. Don’t. The police should read you your Miranda rights before asking you any questions, but even if they don’t, you want to exercise those rights.
You have the right to remain silent. You have the right to an attorney.
The police and prosecutors aren’t asking you questions so that they can realize they got the wrong person. They want to get your confession or uncover proof to use against you in court. Anything you say can be used against you in a court of law, and it can also be used against you during plea bargaining.
Understand the prosecution’s motive
A while back, the Assistant D.A. for the Towaliga Judicial District created a slideshow that explains the Georgia plea bargaining system from the prosecution’s point of view. One of the first slides makes a key point. You, as a defendant, have no constitutional right to plea bargaining. It is completely up to the prosecution to decide whether to offer or negotiate a deal.
Prosecutors offer these deals because they have more cases than time. Trials take a lot of time, and they cost a lot of money. Plea deals are much faster, and they’re easier on prosecutors and judges.
Let’s repeat that point: Plea deals are easier on prosecutors and judges. You may be able to reach an acceptable outcome, but the process doesn’t exist for you. It exists for them. If you don’t like the deals they offer, you have the right to a trial of your peers.
Recognize common tactics
The most common tactic in plea negotiations is charge bargaining. This is when the prosecutors tell you they’re thinking about charges X, Y, and Z, but they might settle for a lesser charge if you just plead guilty. If you hesitate, they may threaten to press heavier charges or add new ones.
None of this should surprise you. However, you shouldn’t take it all at face value, either. All the different charges they mention will demand different types of proof. It’s likely the prosecutors will try to bluff you. And, without professional guidance, you have almost no way to know whether the deals they offer you are reasonable.
The Department of Justice notes that prosecutors don’t always offer the same deals to different people in the same situations. For example, the statistics show that Caucasian suspects are much more likely to receive favorable deals than Blacks.
When everything is stacked in the prosecution’s favor, is there even a reason to negotiate? Yes, there can be, but you need to be prepared.
Plea negotiations are your chance to weigh the pros and cons of the prosecution’s offers. That means that you must first understand what you’re hearing. You need to understand the evidentiary standards for all the different charges. You want to understand what prosecutors have offered to other people in your position. You want to understand how strong or weak the prosecution’s case may be.
Generally, this means working with an experienced criminal defense attorney. Not just one who understand the law, but one who also understands the courts and people involved. Who has seen similar cases in the past. You want an attorney who can bring that experience to the table.
Make sure you understand your options
Finally, you need to understand the different options in front of you. And if there are any possible options that the prosecution hasn’t introduced, you want to understand those, too. You want to understand the risks linked to your choices and the likely consequences.
Your attorney can offer legal advice, but the choice is ultimately up to you. It’s your life, your rights, your freedom and your choice. You don’t want to enter a plea if you’re not absolutely clear what it could mean. If you want to go to trial, you should make sure you’re clear about the risks and the strength of your case.
Augusta Criminal Defense Attorney
Unfortunately, criminal charges can have harsh effects. It is important to understand the consequences of a conviction before deciding to plea or proceed to trial. We urge you to contact the Augusta Criminal Defense Attorneys at Davis, Chapman, and Wilder, LLC to schedule a consultation to discuss your criminal charges as soon as possible.