One of the most critical questions in any criminal case is the choice of accepting a plea deal or proceeding to a trial. At some point in almost every criminal case, this is decision that must be thoroughly analyzed by the client and the attorney. While the client always has the sole decision to proceed to a trial, it is always wise to heed the advice of his or her attorney. The first thing we will always scrutinize is the strength of the prosecutor’s evidence. What evidence do they have? What is the strength of that evidence? What witnesses do they have? What is the strength of those witnesses? Are they credible? Can they be impeached? How would a jury view our client and his or her case? These are just a few of the many questions we analyze and discuss with our client.
In most cases, the prosecutor will offer a plea deal. This gives the defendant the assurance of knowing exactly what his or her sentence is going to be. On the other hand, if the defendant is found guilty after a trial, the judge or jury will have the full range of punishment available to sentence the defendant, which leaves lots of uncertainties regarding the sentence. Thus, the decision of accepting a plea or proceeding to trial is one usually involves balancing the risk versus the reward.
For example, let’s say a defendant is charged with robbery in the second degree. In Missouri, this is classified as a Class B Felony and carries a sentencing range of 5 to 15 years in the Missouri Department of Corrections. Now, let’s say the prosecutor has given our client a plea deal of 5 years, the minimum punishment. If the defendant were to accept the plea deal, he or she would know exactly what the sentence will be – 5 years. If the defendant rejects the plea deal and elects to proceed to trial and is found guilty, the judge or jury can now sentence the defendant anywhere from 5 to 15 years. This example shows the common dilemma defendants are faced with when weighing risk versus reward and making the decision of accepting a plea or going to trial.
At Henderson & Waterkotte, P.C., our experienced team of St. Louis criminal defense trial lawyers have represented thousands of clients and helped our clients achieve outstanding results through both plea negotiations and trial. Call us today to schedule a free consultation to discuss your situation.