When most people think of a criminal case being resolved, they imagine it being brought to trial and presented before a judge or jury. Yet, a majority of cases are not taken to court. Instead, they are settled through a plea deal, a charge or sentence bargain negotiated with the prosecutor.
Whether your case will be set for trial or resolved through a plea deal depends on the situation. A lawyer can review the facts and identify a course of action. They can help you understand your legal options and assist in making an informed decision about accepting a plea deal or going to trial.
At Lessem, Newstat & Tooson, LLP, our Los Angeles attorneys are experienced trial lawyers prepared to explore all available avenues for our clients. To schedule a consultation with us, please call (800) 462-7160 or submit an online contact form today.
The Trial Process
Trials can be lengthy because of the various processes involved, like selecting a jury and presenting arguments in court. They can also be emotional and stressful.
Criminal matters in California can be set for bench trials or jury trials. A bench trial is where a judge hears the evidence and decides the outcome. With a jury trial, a 12-person panel of community members listens to the facts and returns a verdict.
Regardless of who hears the case, the prosecutor has the burden of convincing the triers of fact (the judge or jury) that you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. They will present various pieces of evidence, including witness testimony and exhibits, to support their arguments.
Your criminal defense lawyer works to refute the prosecutor's case. They introduce their own evidence to highlight weaknesses in proof and cast doubt in the minds of the triers of fact.
Thanks to media depictions, it might seem like criminal cases usually go to trial. But they don't. Many as resolved through a different method.
The Alternative to Going to Trial
How can your case be settled outside of going to court? Through a plea deal. This method involves your defense attorney and the prosecutor negotiating a possible resolution that involves your pleading guilty to charges.
Generally, there are two types of plea deals:
- Charge bargain: This is where you plead guilty to only some of the charges or lesser charges.
- Sentence bargain: This is where the prosecutor agrees to recommend a lighter sentence in exchange for your guilty plea.
After you, your lawyer, and the prosecutor have negotiated a plea deal, the judge must review and approve it.
In a sense, a plea deal is beneficial to both parties: The prosecutor gets a conviction, and you possibly get a more favorable outcome than had your case gone to court. You also avoid the lengthy, costly, and stressful process of going to trial.
That said, some drawbacks exist to accepting a plea deal. If you settle your case with the prosecutor, you will be convicted of an offense. Thus, you will still face criminal penalties and have a mark on your record. Both consequences can substantially impact your future.
Additionally, you might give up a couple of important rights. First, you waive your right to a trial. Although we noted that a trial could be time-consuming, it has benefits. For example, having 12 jurors hear your case allows the facts to be considered from different perspectives. These individuals might not see things the way the prosecutor has and return a not guilty verdict.
Second, you limit your right to appeal the conviction. An appeal allows you to ask a higher court to review a lower court's decision because you feel that a legal error affected your case. It can lead to a reversal of the trial court's judgment and a new trial. When you accept a plea bargain, you can only appeal in limited circumstances, such as having received ineffective assistance of counsel.
The Path Your Case Might Take
Whether your case goes to trial or is resolved through a plea deal depends on your situation. Your attorney can review the facts and discuss paths forward. They might recommend accepting the bargain because of the strength of the prosecutor's case against you. However, they could also discover weaknesses in proof and believe that you may receive a more favorable outcome in court.
Because of the factors that must be considered when deciding on the direction of your case, it's essential to work with a lawyer.
Schedule a Consultation Today
Your case might go to trial, but there's a greater chance it will be settled outside the courtroom. Regardless, having an attorney on your side who can negotiate with a prosecutor and present arguments before a judge or jury is vital. That way, they can assist you however your case proceeds.
If you need legal representation in Los Angeles, please contact Lessem, Newstat & Tooson, LLP at (800) 462-7160.