Criminal Trial Or Plea Deal? How Do You Choose? A Former Prosecutor Breaks Down The Options

By July 28, 2023August 25th, 2023Criminal Defense

Jeff Hampton with the Hampton law firm. Today, I want to talk about how does someone know whether or not they should take a criminal case to a trial or to work out a plea agreement? Now, I want to give you the disclaimer from the very beginning, if you are already working with an attorney, I encourage you to make sure you talk to your criminal attorney and this needs to be a very intimate personal decision that you make with your lawyer.

All the information that I am going to give you today is very general information that I think anybody in this situation should consider when working with a good criminal lawyer because there are some things that people need to be aware of when they are trying to make a decision like this that will affect their life.

By the way, if you wait around to the end of this video I’ll also give you a free eBook “what to do if you’ve been charged with a crime in Texas” and I want you to take a look down at the bottom here and you’re going to have an opportunity to click a link into the text section of the YouTube video and we’ll get that to you here at the end of this video okay?

Now let us jump into what do you do what if you are in a situation and you are trying to figure out should I take a plea deal on a case and work it out or should I move forward with the trial? What is the risk? What are the rewards?

The first thing you need to consider are the facts of the case. now I’m going to just say this, if you’re working with an attorney, it’s so very important that you go over the facts of the case and determine if you have bad facts or good facts. If you have bad facts with little chance to win, you should analyze the case less from a guilt innocence situation and more from a mitigation mode.

What I mean by mitigation is this – if there is a video of someone doing something and it is very clear that person is guilty it becomes less about whether or not that individual should be going to trial, and it becomes more about making sure that the punishment or however it’s resolved is fair.

Criminal Trial Or Plea Deal? How Do You Choose? A Former Prosecutor Breaks Down The Options! (2022)

So, what do most people want in that situation? They are looking to see if they can avoid jail time or prison time. The other thing they want to try to look into, and these are good questions for your lawyer, can we still produce an alternative to resolve the case in a way that I could still long term keep this off of my criminal record? On some cases, and we have dealt with this many times, particularly on misdemeanor cases, it is possible that the individual is guilty – they are completely guilty based upon the facts of the case – but yet there are still ways to get the case dismissed.

One of those examples is a conditional dismissal. Particularly, many first-time offenders for misdemeanor cases, a good attorney can go in and negotiate that in exchange for the accused doing certain things, maybe community service or taking a class or donations to a charity, something along those lines. Many times, which can be used in exchange for the prosecutor agreeing to dismiss the case. Another option is that even if the person is guilty of the crime, there are diversion programs that exist.

Diversion programs can accept cases ranging anywhere from shoplifting all the way up to more serious like third-degree felony drug charges and different crimes where you may be eligible for a diversion program. For example, one of the diversion programs in Tarrant County is the Deferred Prosecution Program, and under that DPP program, essentially anywhere from four to eight months, as long as you do not get arrested again, and you’re either holding down a job or you’re in school and you can pass a drug test, at the end of that period, your case is dismissed and you’re eligible to have it expunged from your criminal record immediately.

Okay, these are all things that need to be looked into because sometimes when people don’t know this information, they feel like, “I want to go to trial, I have to go to trial because I can’t take this conviction,” yet there might be some other options that you’re not aware of that can get you the same result as being found not guilty for the most part.

Okay, now what if you are innocent? That is an example of someone that is guilty. What if you are completely innocent, and maybe in this situation, and we have dealt with this many times, you have two issues to consider. We have had clients who are innocent, and I want to tell you this right now, the district attorney’s office trains their prosecutors to try to get something out of the case regardless of the strength of the case. I used to be a prosecutor for five and a half years. For the most part, these prosecutors are trained to try to get anything and everything they can out of a case before they just start dumping a case. Many times, what will happen is, it is not our decision, it is their decision on what to do in this scenario.

Is it the principle of the matter or is it the result that matters? Many clients are saying, “I just want the case dismissed, that’s all that matters. I just want it dismissed and put behind me.” Well, in that situation, there are multiple ways to get a case dismissed, and I will not go into all of those right now. But I’ve had other clients who had said, even if I have a conditional dismissal, even if all I have to do is go take a one-day class, or even if all I have to do is donate to a charity, I don’t want to do it because out of principle, I want a trial, I want my day in court.

Well, please understand, you technically do not have a right to your day in court. The district attorney’s office could dismiss the case anytime they want to if they choose to do that. But your attorney cannot push the case that far if they choose to do that. I just want to warn you, this is where it is so very important. A good attorney counsels their client to make sure principle versus result. And that is one of those things that you want to make sure of and look at. At the end of the day, most clients just want their case to be dismissed and they want it off their record. Okay, so those are two things to consider in that situation.

Now, let us pivot from this and talk about when you are trying to decide whether you go to plea or trial. You need to consider the offer available versus the risk of what happens at trial. Everybody claims to love a trial, and we have tried hundreds of cases here at the Hampton Law Firm, but trial still has its risks. There is always a risk in trial. You do not know who is going to randomly be a part of the jury pool that day when you go in for jury selection. So, one of the things you have to look at is the offer from the prosecutor and whether it is reasonable? Does it check the box of you staying out of jail, you being able to still get this off your record?

If it is an unreasonable offer from a prosecutor and your attorney feels they can do better in trial, then maybe a trial does make sense. But what is the risk? At trial, there have been some people who have multiple prior criminal convictions and if they are convicted their minimum punishment is 25 years up to life in prison. What if they are being offered probation? What if they are being offered two years? In this situation, it is critical that an experienced criminal defense attorney does a good job of explaining this to their client. The client has to perform a risk/reward analysis to determine what makes sense to do.

Understand, things could go really well, and you are exonerated, or things could go really poorly, and you could end up with 25 years up to life in prison, so it is really a risk reward analysis to decide what makes sense for you when you’re weighing a plea versus a trial.

Finally, last thing I want to talk about is…

What Can Your Attorney Do To Improve Your Options?

Can your criminal attorney improve your options in a trial versus plea situation? I am going to just give you a few quick things to think about in this situation. five main things.

  1. Your criminal attorney can prepare a mitigation packet. A mitigation packet essentially is a brag book about your life. You provide all the good things about your life and all the good things that show the kind of person you are – the father, the mother, everything in your life, the job that you have, all these things can be used to try to distinguish you from the rest of the criminals that are at the courthouse and your attorney can make use of that to try to help get you a better result.
  2. Your lawyer can go through the facts of the case to create more reasonable doubt. The more reasonable doubt that exists on a case, the more leverage your attorney many times will have in negotiating a better result.
  3. You can sometimes push your criminal case all the way up to trial, particularly since the pandemic, the caseloads at district attorney’s offices throughout the state have ballooned. They have swollen to the point where it is difficult for the court system to manage it all. Sometimes good lawyers can push that case all the way up to a trial and offers that did not previously exist, now, because the prosecutor is being forced to have to try to get this case ready for trial, they may have 40 cases set for trial but they’re only going to try one that week and in that situation many times the pressure of the system will lead to a better result without a trial.
  4. Sometimes there are judicial options where you could possibly consider an open plea before the judge. One example of this is what is going on at the district attorney’s office all over the state right now. There are some prosecutor’s offices offering prison for first-time offenders for this new crime of solicitation of prostitution. Well, one way that many of these courts are getting around that is that the defense attorneys are doing open pleas to the judge and the judge is giving that client a deferred adjudication probation where, number one they stay out of jail, and they can still not have a felony conviction on their record. So, my point is this there are many times other ways and other means by which to resolve a case without that risk.
  5. Finally, a trial sometimes could be necessary for better punishment if a prosecutor is offering someone 20 years on a case and the maximum sentence is 20 years. You are not going to do any worse than that and many times juries will surprise you. Juries could surprise you and end up giving you a minimum sentence or end up giving a probation so many times if that prosecutor is being unreasonable, a trial could be a good alternative to a plea.

Here is my main point: at the end of the day, you make the decision, not your lawyer. A good criminal defense lawyer is going to educate you on the risks and give you the options of what could happen one way or the other. But at the end of the day, it is your choice and nobody else’s choice about what you decide to do with your case, and we take that very much to heart here at the Hampton law firm.

If you or a loved one are facing a case in the north Texas area, I want to invite you to call our law firm. The number you see above me on the screen we will give you a free case analysis and a consultation and I promised you that free eBook. Click on down through the YouTube description section down below. Click on that link and we will be happy to send you over that content. Thanks for joining us here today. If you liked what you heard subscribe to our YouTube channel, like this video and I will send you more great content just like this.