It is a well-established fact that you should never represent yourself in a court of law, but your trial is not the only time that you will need an experienced attorney on your side. Whether you have chosen to hire a private attorney or work with the public defender, it is crucial to begin consulting with your counsel as early as possible. In many cases, it makes sense to start working with an attorney any time you know you are a suspect in a criminal case, even if the prosecutor has not yet charged you. While there are many reasons to get a head start with your defense attorney, the plea bargaining process is by far the most important.
What Are Plea Bargains?
Although most people know of plea bargaining from popular media, they are a critical part of the real world court system. Put simply, a plea bargain is an arrangement made between the defendant in a criminal case and the prosecutor pursuing that case. If you agree to a plea bargain, then you will generally enter a plea of nolo contendere ("no contest") in exchange for whatever favorable terms the prosecutor has offered. It is essential to understand that a "no contest" plea will still result in a conviction, but without the need for you to admit guilt.
The Advantages of Bargaining
Plea bargains can often be complicated, but in general, you will have the option to reduce the severity of one or more charges, eliminate one or more charges, or limit your maximum sentencing. Contrary to their portrayal in television and movies, however, a plea bargain does not always guarantee that you will know your sentence in advance. Prosecutors will sometimes lower the upper limit of possible sentencing options, but in some cases, you may only be able to have some charges removed or reduced, and you will still potentially face the maximum possible sentencing for those charges.
Why You Need a Lawyer to Handle the Plea Bargaining Process
The possibility of reaching a deal will be available almost as soon as the prosecutor files charges. Unfortunately, the criminal justice system offers many advantages to prosecutors while offering few to the accused. If you are unable to afford your bail, for example, you will be forced to spend your time in jail as you await your trial. Trying circumstances such as this can make it challenging for even skilled negotiators to work effectively with a prosecutor, leaving you at a severe disadvantage. Working with an attorney gives you someone on your side who can immediately begin negotiating on your behalf.
Even more crucially, defense attorneys will be able to accurately judge your odds of making it through a jury trial. This assessment can help them to determine the best deal you are likely to get from the prosecutor so that you do not accept an unfavorable bargain. Likewise, your attorney will have the experience to judge whether a deal is as good as it gets so that you can make an informed decision about whether to take it or move on to a jury trial.
For more information, contact a law firm like Daniels Long & Pinsel.