A plea deal is an understanding between the defense and the prosecution to resolve a criminal case. The deal is often referred to as a plea bargain or plea agreement.
Typically, the criminal defendant agrees to plead no contest or guilty in exchange for a sentence reduction or reduced penalty. Experienced San Diego criminal defense lawyers generally negotiate better plea deals than criminal defendants representing themselves.
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Plea Deals Are Very Common in California
Most criminal cases are resolved through plea agreements. Plea deals can be used in felony charges and misdemeanor offenses. So why do defendants and prosecutors agree to plea deals instead of going to trial?
A plea agreement gives both parties a level of security going into court. They understand the agreement and the proposed sentence. However, a party going into criminal court for trial cannot be sure what outcome they receive.
For example, a prosecutor could have the strongest case of their career. However, the jurors may decide the evidence did not prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
On the other hand, an innocent person may be tried for a crime. Even though they were innocent and the evidence seemed to prove their innocence, the jurors found them guilty.
By agreeing to a plea deal, the party removes the uncertainty of going to trial. Furthermore, plea bargains typically allow defendants to negotiate a lesser sentence, and the prosecutor is guaranteed a “win” without the need to prepare for trial or argue the case in court.
Choosing to Plead Guilty or No Contest as Part of a Plea Deal
The criminal defendant must enter a plea of guilty or no contest when entering a plea. In some cases, the prosecutor might not care either way. In other cases, the prosecutor might demand a guilty plea.
The criminal defendant must decide how to plead if the prosecutor does not demand a guilty plea. Even though the result is the same for both pleas, there is a significant difference.
What Is a Guilty Plea?
Guilty pleas must be voluntary. The person must understand that they are giving up their Constitutional right to a public trial. A guilty plea cannot be obtained through coercion or threats.
The defendant admits that they committed the crime and accepts responsibility for the consequences. The defendant must understand the consequences and terms of a guilty plea.
What Is a Plea of No Contest?
A plea of no contest also results in the judge sentencing the defendant without a trial. The criminal defendant gives up the right to trial and accepts the consequences of pleading no contest to the criminal charges. The defendant cannot be coerced or threatened to obtain the no-contest plea.
The critical difference between pleading no contest and guilty is that the defendant does not admit they committed the crime. Instead, the defendant agrees not to contest or fight the criminal charges.
Please of no contest may be used when a person does not remember committing a crime. No-contest pleas are also used in criminal cases where defendants could face civil liability for their conduct.
For example, assume the defendant is guilty of drunk driving. While driving under the influence, the defendant caused a DUI accident that injured several people. The accident victims could sue the defendant for damages in civil court.
The defendant does not want to admit he was drunk during the accident. That admission could be used in a civil case to prove negligence or fault. The result could be a substantial personal judgment against the defendant for damages.
Can I Plead Guilty During a Criminal Trial?
You can plead guilty at any time during your criminal case, including during your criminal trial. However, the plea must be entered before the jury or judge reaches a verdict. After that, it is too late to enter a plea deal unless the trial ends in a hung jury.
Many plea deals are negotiated in the pretrial phase of a criminal case. Plea negotiations can begin early in the process. Either side may initiate the negotiations for a plea deal.
Should I Accept a Plea Deal Without a Lawyer?
The decision to accept a plea deal is ultimately up to the criminal defendant. The defendant is the person who has to live with the consequences of pleading guilty or no contest to criminal charges.
A plea deal may be in the defendant’s best interest in many cases. The person knows they committed the crime, and they want to avoid the most severe punishments for a conviction.
However, a plea agreement may not always be in the defendant’s best interest. There could be one or more defenses that could result in a dismissal or acquittal of charges. The prosecutor does not represent the defendant and does not look out for the defendant’s best interest.
Instead, the defendant needs an experienced criminal defense lawyer to review the case and the plea deal. A lawyer looks out for the client’s best interest. If the plea deal is unfair, the lawyer can negotiate better terms or advise the client to proceed to trial.
Schedule a Free Consultation With Our San Diego Criminal Defense Lawyers
At Blair Defense Criminal Lawyers, we fight to have criminal charges dismissed and our clients acquitted. However, if going to trial is not in your best interest, we aggressively negotiate for the best plea deal available. Contact our law firm to schedule a free consultation with an experienced San Diego criminal defense attorney. Call us at (619) 357-4977.