Prosecuting a criminal case can take a tremendous amount of time and effort. Courts across California also have crowded dockets. For the sake of efficiency, prosecutors often arrange plea agreements with defendants. Usually, judges accept these deals without looking too deeply into them.
Even though prosecutors have considerable leverage to encourage defendants to negotiate guilty pleas, you probably should think twice before accepting a deal in three situations.
1. You did not do the crime
Prosecutors may promise you a lighter sentence in exchange for your guilty plea. Still, a guilty plea requires you to acknowledge you committed the crime. It also may brand you with a criminal record for the rest of your life. Consequently, if you did not do the crime, you may not want to say you did by accepting a plea bargain.
2. The deal does not make sense
Just as many lawyers love to write legalese, the criminal code can be technical. If you have any questions about what the language of the plea deal means, you are not ready to accept it. Likewise, if you do not fully comprehend the consequences of your plea, you do not have enough information to make the deal.
3. You have a valid defense
There is certainly nothing wrong with holding prosecutors to their burden of proving each element of the criminal offense beyond a reasonable doubt. If you have a valid defense or believe you can successfully attack the prosecution’s case, entertaining a plea deal may be premature.
While accepting a plea deal may be in your legal interests, you typically have the option of going to trial. Ultimately, only after you have explored all your options and fully understand the consequences of your plea are you ready to move forward with it.