How prosecutors misuse plea deals to their benefit

| May 17, 2021 | Criminal Defense |

You’re in trouble with the law and facing charges — and you’re understandably scared about the future. When the prosecutor offers you a plea deal, it’s tempting to jump at the chance.

Should you? Maybe. Before you make that decision, however, there are a few things you need to know.

How have plea deals have replaced trials?

Your right to a jury trial in most criminal cases is an important part of the justice system, yet roughly 94% of convictions at the state level and 97% at the federal level come through plea deals.

Do the vast majority of criminals just decide to confess as soon as they’re caught? Not hardly. By some estimates, up to 20% of the defendants who ultimately accept plea deals are totally innocent of the charges. (The odds are high that many others, innocent or not, could prevail at trial over a prosecutor’s weak case.)

What convinces so many defendants to take plea deals?

Essentially, it comes down to this: Prosecutors have a lot of leverage that “encourages” defendants to give up their right to a trial in exchange for a “sure bet” with a plea. That leverage includes:

  • Charge-stacking. This is when they charge what would normally be a misdemeanor offense as a felony or add multiple additional “counts” based on loose interpretations of the law
  • Pretrial detention. This — coupled with unaffordable bails — can leave defendants stuck behind bars waiting trial longer than they’d serve if they’d take a plea
  • Threats against others. These can come in the form of promises to investigate and indict family members and close friends if the defendant doesn’t capitulate
  • The “trial tax.” This is the term used to describe the excessively harsh sentence someone may face upon conviction if they assert their right to a trial

Any of these factors alone can put a lot of pressure on a defendant to take a plea. Combined, they’re virtually irresistible.

How do you protect yourself?

If you’re in trouble, the smartest thing you can do is talk to an experienced defense attorney as soon as possible. When you’re facing serious criminal charges, you don’t want to make any uninformed decisions about your future.