If you have been charged with a crime, there’s a chance that the prosecution will offer you something known as a plea deal, also called a plea bargain or plea agreement. This offer gives you a unique opportunity to avoid going to trial – but at a price.
Let’s say you’re facing a burglary charge, which is a felony in Florida. The prosecution may offer you a plea deal in which you agree to plead guilty to a lesser, misdemeanor charge (such as trespassing), and in exchange, you avoid a trial by jury and accept reduced penalties. These penalties might take the form of community service and probation instead of jail time, or they could require you to serve some time in jail – but for a shorter sentence.
Is accepting a plea deal a good idea for your case? Here are some factors to consider:
If you accept the plea deal, there’s a possibility you could avoid jail time. Whatever penalties you do face will be less severe than if you went to trial and were found guilty. The offense that appears on your record will also be less serious than the original offense you were charged with.
In addition, by accepting the plea agreement, you avoid any publicity associated with a trial. If you hired a private attorney, you’ll also have substantially reduced legal fees by avoiding a trial.
On the other hand, accepting a plea deal means you could be pleading guilty to a crime you didn’t actually commit. You would lose out on your chance of acquittal. It’s therefore worth understanding what evidence the prosecution has against you, to help you gauge what your chances of being found guilty might be, if you went to trial.
By accepting a plea bargain, you will also be agreeing to accept some penalties. It’s worth understanding what these are in advance, and whether the terms are acceptable to you. It’s also important to note that accepting a plea bargain means a conviction will appear on your permanent criminal record, and convictions are not expungable under Florida law.
Accepting a plea deal is a very personal decision, and many details unique to your case will help inform what’s best for you. It is not a decision you should make alone, however. An experienced criminal defense lawyer can help you understand the full context of your case and help you to make the most informed decision possible.