To Plea or Not To Plea

Posted on in Criminal Law

plea bargain, criminal defense, Arlington Heights Criminal Defense LawyerAlthough riveting courtroom dramas serve as the dramatic climax in countless movies, books, and TV shows, most criminal matters are resolved without such a high-stakes intellectual duel.

Plea bargaining first appeared in the 1880s, which is not very long ago when considering the fact that criminal trials date back to Biblical times. In one of the earliest recorded cases, Albert McKenzie, who pilfered $52.50 from his sewing machine company employer, pled guilty to misdemeanor embezzlement to avoid a felony trial. The practice grew steadily before exploding in the 1980s and 1990s, partially in response to the federal government’s "war on crime" that drastically increased the minimum sentences for even low-level offenses.

Today, although estimates vary, around 95 percent of criminal cases are disposed of by plea bargain. By comparison, again depending on the location, about 85 percent of civil cases are settled out of court.

Trial or Plea?

The essence of plea bargaining revolves around that old saying that "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush." So, just because attorneys typically advise their clients to "plead out," they are not running up the white flag and giving up. Instead, they are helping their clients make the best out of a bad situation.

The prosecutor almost always makes a plea bargain offer, and there is typically some room for negotiation. When it comes time to accept or reject the offer, most attorneys consider:

  • Time: Many defendants are understandably eager to put the incident behind them, and the wait for a trial date can exceed six or eight months, in most courtrooms;
  • Gap: If the offer is probation for an offense that carries a maximum 10-year sentence, the typical response is "Where do I sign?" The reaction may be different if the prosecutor offers six or seven years instead of probation; and
  • Chances: How strong are the defendant’s legal and factual arguments, as opposed to those from the prosecutor?

A plea bargain is never a first choice for an experienced lawyer. Otherwise, prosecutors will say something like "he/she always retreats into a plea closet," and it will be harder to negotiate a fair deal.

Whether a trial or a plea bargain is in your best interests, count on an experienced attorney in Arlington Heights to deliver results that exceed your expectations. Contact Scott F. Anderson today at 847-253-3400 for a free consultation.