Should You Negotiate or Go to Trial in a Criminal Case?

Posted by Ronald D. HeddingApr 29, 2022

This is a big question for many people because they don't want to get a conviction.  They don't want to go to jail or prison.  They don't want to suffer the consequences of a criminal conviction in California. 

So, they start to try to decide exactly what they should do.  Obviously, in my opinion, that's a bit of a process. The primary contact you want to talk with about whether or not you go to try it is your criminal defense attorney.

Negotiate or Go to Trial in a Criminal Case

But there are a lot of factors that go into it.  You have to assess the case from a jury standpoint.  If you believe a jury will find you guilty because the government has the evidence against you, then obviously, that's not the type of case you want to go to trial because you're going to spend money. 

You're going to go through the stress of going through a trial.  Then you're going to lose, and you're going to get a much worse sentence than if you would have negotiated the case and resolved it.  That's one of the big things you've got to consider – whether or not you could win a case at the trial. 

What I do, is have you come in.  We go through all of the evidence that the prosecutors have against you.  We go through your defense in the case, and then we sit down and evaluate whether you think you can win. 

Sometimes you get in a position where you really can't tell one way or another.  You realize that 12 people from the community are going to come in.  They're going to listen to the evidence.  They're going to evaluate it and decide whether or not you or your loved one is guilty or innocent of the crime.  Our Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys will explain this topic in more detail below.

Should You Accept a Plea Bargain?

One of the most common questions is whether or not to accept a plea deal that the prosecutor offered. The simple answer is that it depends on many different factors. A plea bargain is an agreement you will agree to plead guilty to the charges against you in exchange for the prosecutor:

  • dismissing some charges,
  • reducing charges, or
  • recommending a lighter sentence.

For instance, it's common practice in DUI cases for a defendant to agree to plead guilty to reckless driving, which carries lesser punishments than a DUI conviction.

Should You Accept a Plea Bargain?

A plea bargain includes a defendant pleading “nolo contendere” or “no contest.” This means not admitting or denying the charge, but they are willing to accept the penalties because the evidence is sufficient for a conviction.

A plea bargain could occur at any stage in the criminal process. Plea deals can be reached right after the first court appearance, called the “arraignment,” or as late as during the jury trial. Plea bargains are the fastest way to resolve a California criminal case, and they usually result in a favorable outcome for both the defendant and prosecution. For example:

  • defendants can avoid a more severe penalty for their criminal charges,
  • save money on lawyer legal fees, and
  • court costs and fines.

The prosecutor secures a conviction and can punish the defendant in some manner. Further, they make the court schedule more manageable they will have fewer trials that save a significant amount of time and money.

What is the Strength of the Prosecutor's Case?

The most important question to consider when considering a plea deal is the relative strength of the District Attorney's case. In other words, how likely is it that if you proceeded to a jury trial, would you be convicted?

Readers should note that prosecutors don't offer a plea deal out of kindness. They don't have your best interest in mind. If their case is flawed and the evidence is weak, there is no reason to accept a plea deal. In reality, however, it's rare for a fragile case to be filed, or in a felony case, it would get past a preliminary hearing where the judge determines probable cause.

Thus, the situation is more likely that their case is either solid or flawed in some respects. In such cases, the defendant and their lawyer have to realistically assess the likelihood that a jury will be persuaded of their innocence. There are many relevant considerations to determine whether you should agree to a plea deal, such as:

  • the likely sentence if the jury convicts you,
  • defendant's prior criminal record,
  • mitigating factors about the defendant's history and character,
  • the minor or significant nature of the criminal conduct.
  • if the prosecutor offers a harsh sentence as part of the plea deal.

Every case is different. If the offer of a plea agreement is no better than the possible result of a jury trial, you should consider taking the case to trial.

Honest Evaluation of the Evidence

That weighing process of looking at the prosecution's evidence and how you will defend the case is critical.  It's best done with an attorney who's done a lot of jury trials.  You need a defense attorney who will give you an honest assessment of the evidence and your chances of a favorable outcome.

Police Bodycam Evidence

Suppose your attorney hasn't done many jury trials. In that case, they're not a very good person to assess your case because you're not going to have a clear picture of what a jury might do and what the issues might be, and where some extra investigation and work, if necessary, to tip you over the top so you can get that not guilty verdict.

But no one can tell you whether you're going to get a not-guilty verdict because, once again, you're putting your case in the hands of 12 people you don't know. 

You want an advocate who will fight with you, who's got a lot of experience, and who will be a better advocate than the prosecutor.  The fact is, your criminal defense attorney will go head to head with the prosecutor. 

They are going to be arguing the facts they want.  So, we must think about it and assess it when deciding whether or not we're going to take a plea deal after negotiating the criminal case.

Should You Take Your Criminal Case to Trial?

Of course, the other factor is what the negotiation is all about.  In other words, what is the prosecutor likely to give you as a resolution in your case, and can you accept that resolution?

Criminal Attorney in California

If you can't accept the resolution for various reasons, you have your answer as to whether or not you should take the case to trial. Sometimes I've had clients say listen; we're not taking that deal.  We don't want to take that deal.  We don't feel we should have to accept that deal, and we want to fight the case. 

No problem.  As long as you know what the ramifications are – at least the potential ramifications-and you've made a conscious decision that it's in your best interests to fight the case, then you agree to go ahead and fight the case all the way. 

But, until you do that, you're not able to make that decision. That's where somebody like me, who's been doing it now for almost 30 years, done nearly 250 jury trials, negotiated over 10,000 cases, I'm in a position to help you make the best decision for you. 

So, if you want the best in deciding whether to negotiate or take a criminal case to trial, pick up the phone.  Make the call.  I stand at the ready to help.  The Hedding Law Firm is based in Los Angeles, and we offer a free case evaluation by phone or by filling out the contact form.

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