What are the pros and cons of accepting a plea bargain?

Facing criminal charges is a stressful experience. Involvement with the California criminal justice system can drastically change your life. The idea of going to trial and needing to defend yourself while your entire history is vulnerable to digging by the prosecution, and the threat of imprisonment lingers, might make you feel like taking a plea bargain.

A significant number of defendants accused of crimes in California will plead guilty rather than risk going to trial to defend themselves. There are some benefits to this approach, as well as certain drawbacks. Weighing those consequences with an experienced criminal defense lawyer can help you decide the right response in your case.

The benefits of a plea bargain

A negotiated plea bargain may take certain penalties off of the table, such as allowing you to avoid jail time in favor of probation instead, or allow you to plead to a lesser offense.

Especially for those facing felony charges with significant penalties, the idea of pleading to a misdemeanor and eliminating certain consequences can be very appealing.

Another benefit of a plea bargain is that it significantly reduces the time and expenses associated with a full court case. Rather than a trial, you enter your plea and then relatively quickly face sentencing.

The drawbacks of a plea bargain

There are numerous downsides to accepting a plea bargain when you face charges, especially if you maintain your innocence. Sometimes, an agreement reached with the prosecution can be ignored by the judge during sentencing; they could “throw the book at you” anyway because they have strong feelings about drunk driving or drug charges.

More importantly, accepting a plea bargain almost always means that you will have a permanent criminal record. Employment opportunities, educational options and even social relationships may suffer if people know about your criminal conviction. If you work in a licensed or regulated profession, the charges to which you’ve plead guilty could affect the status of your professional license, the ability to rent an apartment, or the right to own a firearm.

The verdict

Evaluating the best and worst-case scenarios for a conviction vs a plea bargain can help you determine the proper course to take. An experienced criminal defense attorney can aide you through this complicated journey.