Frankly, some lawyers are scared to go to trial or too busy to prepare proper defenses, so they encourage their clients to plead guilty. Generally, however, an old saying applies in these cases. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Something good, a favorable plea bargain, is superior to the possibility of something better, like a not-guilty verdict at trial.
Not all plea bargain offers are good. In fact, the first plea bargain offer, like the first offer in many other situations, is usually bad. Furthermore, “good” isn’t the same in all situations. For example, if the defendant has no legal or equitable defenses, as outlined below, almost any offer other than the maximum punishment is “good.” However, in most cases, an attorney can do much better.
Preparation is usually the key to a successful outcome, whether you’re a sixth-grade student who wants a good grade on a math test or a Marietta criminal defense lawyer who wants to successfully resolve a criminal case. In both cases, preparation means doing your homework. A lawyer’s homework includes analyzing the case, investigating the facts, researching the law, and preparing for a fight.
End Bail Restrictions
Understandably, many defendants are so desperate to get out of jail that they’ll sign almost anything that anyone puts in front of them. As a result, the conditions of bail are normally very restrictive. These conditions include:
- Remaining current on alimony and child support payments,
- Avoiding further trouble with the law,
- Meeting regularly with a supervision officer,
- Attending all court hearings, even procedural ones, and
- Remaining in the county.
Many of these conditions are mutually exclusive and therefore impossible to keep. For example, if Jerry must miss work to meet with a supervision officer and attend court hearings, he probably cannot remain current on family support payments.
That’s just the beginning. Bail conditions usually include offense-specific conditions, like a protective order in a domestic battery case. Protective orders have significant collateral consequences, especially in family court.
The sooner a Marietta criminal defense lawyer resolves a case, the sooner these restrictive conditions end.
As outlined below, most plea bargains include probation. Probation terms can be as restrictive as bail terms, unless the defendant has a good lawyer.
Probation, like bail, includes general conditions. A lawyer eases these conditions. For example, if Jerry’s criminal conviction reduces his earning ability, a Marietta family law attorney may be able to reduce his child support and/or alimony obligation in court.
Speaking of family court, attorneys often negotiate consent decrees instead of protective orders. A consent decree often contains the same terms as a protective order. However, a consent decree doesn’t have nearly as much stigma as a protective order.
Cobb County courts are very overcrowded. Most defendants wait at least a year for a trial date. In some cases, the waiting time could be much longer. Additionally, trials are expensive. Trials require so much preparation, as outlined above, that the defendant’s legal bill could easily be three or four times higher.
This waiting and expense also creates additional emotional stress. Criminal cases are very unpleasant, to say the least. Most people are anxious to get them over with. Additionally, the extra financial stress of a trial usually means a family must cut back in other areas. No matter how good the reason is, children usually don’t understand why there’s not much under the Christmas tree.
Guilty pleas reduce or eliminate these costs. At this point, we should say that pleading guilty does not imply moral guilt. It only implies legal guilt. In some cases, especially misdemeanors, judges allow defendants to plead no contest. Nolo contender means the defendant doesn’t contest the charges.
Control is an issue as well. Bench trials (the judge serves as both factfinder and referee) are somewhat predictable, but there’s no guaranteed result. Jury trials are completely unpredictable. In contrast, a defendant has almost total control over a plea bargain, in terms of the content of the agreement and when the court finalizes it.
This area is probably the biggest reason why lawyers often encourage defendants to plead guilty. The stronger the defense, the lower the punishment, if a Marietta criminal defense lawyer is a good negotiator.
A procedural, substantive, and/or affirmative defense is usually available. At trial, the defense must be strong enough to blunt the state’s case. During plea negotiations, the defense must only be strong enough to make prosecutors reassess their chances at trial.
Fourth and Fifth Amendment violations are perhaps the most common procedural defenses in criminal cases. These Constitutional provisions limit police officers’ search and seizure ability, as well as their ability to interrogate suspects.
Procedural violations are excellent defenses because what’s done is done. The state cannot turn back the clock and undo mistakes police officers made.
The state can address substantive defenses. Prosecutors must establish guilt beyond any reasonable doubt. For example, if one eyewitness’ testimony is not credible, prosecutors could use another witness. However, more evidence is usually unavailable. For example, if Larry refused to take a Breathalyzer test, the state must move forward with circumstantial evidence, usually the field sobriety test results, no matter how weak that evidence is.
Affirmative defenses include entrapment, self-defense, and abandonment/withdrawal. These defenses are risky, since the defendant must admit to the elements of the offense.
An equitable defense is basically an extenuating circumstance. The defendant’s age is a good example. The brain isn’t fully developed until about age 25. Younger people are easily swayed and often make bad choices. An underdeveloped brain is not a legal defense, since it’s not a disability. However, jurors often take this factor into account when assessing the evidence or passing sentence.
Pleading guilty is usually better than going to trial. For a free consultation with an experienced Marietta criminal defense attorney, contact The Phillips Law Firm, LLC. Convenient payment plans are available.