You’ve been accused of a serious crime and you’re scared. But almost before you’re done being fingerprinted and processed, a prosecutor is offering you a plea deal.
What’s going on? Why is a prosecutor in a hurry to offer you a deal when you’ve barely had time to find an attorney? Well, the case against you could be weak — but it’s most likely because it’s simply to their advantage if you just take the deal — even if it’s not really in your best interest.
The vast majority of criminal cases today end in plea deals — so much so that there are concerns that the idea of a “right to a trial by a jury of your peers” is becoming more of a myth than a reality. More than 97% of federal cases end in pleas and roughly 94% of state criminal cases do the same. Plea bargains relieve the government of the financial burden of a trial and they go down as a “win” in the prosecutor’s books, so they’re heavily encouraged.
In fact, many times, plea deals are outright coerced. Prosecutors will use tactics like stacked charges or “up-charging” to terrify a defendant with the idea of a long, mandatory sentence if they lose in court. If a defendant can’t afford bail, prosecutors may present them with a deal that lets them get out of jail faster than they would if they waited on a trial.
Under those circumstances, innocent people do plead guilty — even to serious crimes. Among people who were wrongfully convicted and later proved innocent through DNA testing, some 20% pled guilty in court to get some kind of deal.
If you’ve been charged with a violent crime, call a defense lawyer who understands what’s at stake. Don’t let prosecutorial tactics leave you with a criminal record you don’t deserve.