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Should Defendants Say No Thank You to Pleas?

You have no doubt heard the expression to cop a plea. Usually, people say that phrase with a certain amount of disdain, probably equating it with the also-familiar phrase to cop out. Surely, they think, people who are not guilty would never agree to say they are. I know I never would, they say.

But would they? And should they?

Plea arrangements are, in fact, such an important part of our criminal justice system that they account for the resolution of about 95 percent of criminal cases. True, it has been pointed out that the framers of the Constitution went to great lengths to guarantee all Americans the right to trial by jury, never even contemplating the possibility of a plea bargain. But at the same time, they also established that an accused has the right to be assisted by an attorney — and a good criminal defense attorney has the knowledge and experience to evaluate all the tools available for helping the client get the best possible outcome. Sometimes, a plea arrangement may be the best option.

Reasons to seek a plea arrangement include:

  • Avoiding a trial that for various reasons, such as witnesses who have an incentive to lie, is likely to result in a guilty verdict with a much harsher penalty
  • Avoiding the cost, stress, hassle and public exposure of a drawn-out trial
  • Getting released from jail quickly when bail is not an option
  • Having a less-serious offense on your record than the original charge would bring, which can affect everything from the consequences of another conviction to your ability to get a job

The justice system also gets something out of a plea bargain: One less case to clog up the courts. Of course, you should never agree to a plea arrangement without the knowledgeable advice of a skilled criminal defense attorney.

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