When your reputation, character and freedom are on the line, nothing will occupy your mind more than the question of whether you should take your criminal case to a Jury Trial. In order to help guide you in your decision making, I’ve outlined some points that you should consider when making this decision.
1. The number one thing you should ask yourself is, are you guilty or innocent of the charges? Often this question is more complicated than I am letting on. But as a rule of thumb, the best reason to plead guilty is because you are guilty.
2. How strong is the State’s case against you? This is a question you are going to want to talk to your attorney about. A good criminal defense attorney has experience taking criminal cases to a jury trial. He has won and lost, and through this experience knows what makes a good case and a bad case. After your attorney obtains the State’s evidence against you (police reports, witness statements, etc.), you should sit down with your criminal defense attorney, discuss the facts of the case, and whether he thinks the State has a strong case and why.
3. How good of an offer has the State made? This also is an issue you will want to speak to your attorney about. A criminal defense attorney is going to be familiar with the various offers that are made by the State, and whether the offer that is being made to you is comparable (better or worse) to past offers. But your attorney is obviously not the last stop in answering this question, you also have to ask yourself if you can live with what the State is promising you. It may be a great offer when compared to what the State normally offers, but it may still be something you can’t live with. Don’t think that just because it is a great offer that you should take it. That is only one factor to consider. Also remember that the general rule is, the Judge does not have to follow any agreement that you and the prosecutor come to. There are times where he must, but that is the exception to the rule. So don’t be fooled into thinking that just because the State has promised to argue for a certain sentence that the Judge is just going to follow along. He may not.
4. How risky is it to go to trial? You should consider the risks involved. Has the State offered to amend a felony charge to a misdemeanor charge if you plead guilty? Has the State offered probation when you are looking at prison? Risks are something you will want to talk to your criminal defense attorney about. What may appear to be a risk may not be. For example, the maximum punishment for your charge may be 15 years in prison, but a criminal defense attorney may know that rarely does a first time offender of that particular charge ever get anything other than probation. In that event the State’s offer of probation may not be as appealing. And the reverse could be true, the State could be offering probation on a case that you would normally go to prison for, in that event the risk of going to trial may outweigh the benefit of the State’s offer. These of course are just examples, the types of risks involved in a jury trial are numerous, and you will want to speak to your criminal defense attorney about them.
5. A related reason to pleading “guilty because you are guilty” is the factor in sentencing of taking responsibility and accountability for your actions. Pleading guilty can go a long way in persuading a judge into believing that you have taken responsibility and accountability for your actions. This is not to say that a judge is necessarily going to punish you if you do go to jury trial, although the prosecutor will certainly argue that he should. Pleading guilty to a charge can be an indication of sincerity in being responsible and accountable for your actions. In fact in a federal case, they have a specific sentencing guideline that will reduce your sentence due to taking responsibility and accountability.
6. My experience has been that many cases are not as simple as guilty or not guilty. Many cases are convoluted and do not fit into the nice package of guilty or not guilty. However there are also many cases that are as simple as that. You either did it, or you didn’t do it. You either stole the money from the cash register, or you did not. If you did not steal the money from the cash register, then this effectively over rides everything I just wrote. If you are clearly and simply not guilty, then no matter how good of an offer the State has given you, no matter how apparent it is that the State has a strong case (which isn’t likely if you really didn’t steal the money from the cash register), no matter how many years in prison they are threatening you with, you should take your case to trial and forget everything I just wrote.