Why Would an Innocent Person Take a Plea Deal?

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The overwhelming majority of criminal cases in Arizona are resolved through plea bargains rather than going to trial. Plea bargaining is, for better or for worse, an integral part of the criminal justice system.  Estimates suggest that over 90% of criminal cases end in a plea offer. We tend to believe as a society that only guilty people plead guilty; why would an innocent person ever admit they were guilty of a crime they did not commit? Regrettably, numerous innocent individuals find themselves compelled to accept plea deals from prosecutors for a variety of reasons. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help evaluate your best legal options and pursue a strong defense strategy for a successful outcome.

Statue Of Lady Of Justice

Top Reasons for Innocents to Accept a Plea Deal

Taking a plea bargain when innocent may seem unimaginable. It may seem like a miscarriage of justice.  And, indeed, it is a miscarriage of justice. No innocent person should ever be placed in a situation where they are convicted of a crime they did not commit.  The very idea of it is difficult to stomach.  However, there are several compelling real-world reasons why innocent people plead guilty:

Fear of Harsher Sentence

One of the primary reasons even an innocent person might consider a plea deal is the fear of facing severe consequences if convicted at trial in state or federal courts. Prosecutors often leverage the possibility of lengthy trial penalty to coerce accused into accepting plea agreements, creating a daunting choice between a potentially long prison term or a seemingly lesser sentence through plea bargaining.

Pressure and Coercion

The criminal justice process can be overwhelming, and innocent individuals may find themselves pressured or coerced into taking guilty pleas. The stress of facing trial in a criminal case, coupled with the risk of a criminal conviction if found guilty, may lead some to go for a plea agreement as a way to alleviate immediate stress and obtain a defined, albeit undeserved, resolution.

Lack of Confidence in the System

Distrust in the criminal justice system, concerns about bias, and a perceived inability to get a fair trial can lead innocent individuals to doubt the efficacy of their defense. Faced with skepticism about the system’s ability to deliver justice, some criminal defendants may reluctantly accept a plea deal, viewing it as a compromise to obtain a more predictable outcome of wrongful convictions.

Risk Aversion

The uncertainty associated with trials, coupled with the inherent risks of jury verdicts, may prompt innocent defendants to adopt a risk-averse approach. Fearful of the potential consequences of a trial gone awry, individuals might choose the certainty of a plea deal over the unpredictability of a courtroom judgment.

Misinformation and Lack of Legal Understanding

Innocent defendants usually lack a comprehensive understanding of their legal rights, potential defenses, and the challenges of the criminal legal system. Misinformation or a lack of legal guidance can contribute to the decision to accept plea bargains for a lighter sentence.

If you have pleaded guilty and would like to go back to a not guilty plea, consult with a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney to discuss your legal options.

Accepting a Plea Deal and Pleading Guilty are Different

When defendants plead guilty, they basically enter into a negotiated agreement with the prosecution. Plea bargain depends on the defendant pleading guilty to a lesser charge or accepting a reduced sentence in exchange for avoiding a jury trial and giving up their trial rights. 

A factually innocent defendant might wish to agree to take a plea deal and admit guilt to avoid maximum sentence as per the judicial system. That is something that should almost never happen.  But the reality is that innocent people are convicted of crimes they did not commit every single day in America and especially in Arizona, which has some of the very harshest mandatory minimum sentences anywhere in the country.  Plea deals are strategic decisions often made to mitigate potential harsher consequences that might result from a criminal trial.

On the other hand, pleading guilty involves a direct admission of guilt to the charges brought against the individual. This plea is typically entered in court, and the defendant acknowledges their responsibility for the alleged offenses without any negotiated concessions from the prosecution. Seasoned criminal defense lawyers can explain the difference between the two and help you make the right decision.

While both actions involve an acknowledgment of involvement in the alleged criminal activity, the difference lies in the negotiation aspect. Taking a plea deal implies an agreement between the defense and prosecution, leading to specific concessions or benefits for the defendant. Pleading guilty, on the other hand, is a straightforward admission of culpability without negotiated terms.

Man And A Woman Consulting Their Attorney

Consequences of Accepting a Plea Deal When You are Not Guilty

Accepting a plea deal when you believe you are not guilty can have significant consequences, and you should carefully weigh the potential impacts before making such a decision.

  • Admission of Guilt: You are required to plead guilty to the charges if you accept a plea bargain. This admission of guilt can have long-term consequences on your record and reputation.
  • Criminal Record: Pleading guilty, even through the plea system, results in a conviction on your criminal record. Such pleas can affect your future employment opportunities, housing applications, and other aspects of your life.
  • Limited Legal Recourse: Accepting a plea deal usually involves waiving certain rights, including the right to appeal the conviction. Many defendants are not aware that by accepting the terms of the plea bargaining task force can limit their right to obtain a new trial. You may be stuck with the old bail system even if new evidence emerges.
  • Sentencing Guidelines: The terms of the plea deal may include specific sentencing conditions, such as fines, probation, or community service as per the court system. These consequences can impact your life for an extended period.
  • Collateral Consequences: Beyond the immediate legal penalties, there may be collateral consequences such as restrictions on employment, voting rights, or gun ownership. These consequences can persist long after the sentence is served making it important to consult with a criminal defense lawyer.
  • Immigration Consequences: Non-citizens may face severe immigration consequences, including deportation, as a result of pleading guilty to certain charges. It is vital to speak with a lawyer confidently within the purview of attorney client relationship before accepting a plea offer.
  • Impact on Professional Licenses: Some professions may have licensing boards that consider criminal convictions when determining eligibility. Accepting a plea deal may affect your ability to work in certain professions.
  • Difficulty in Expungement: A guilty plea may make it more challenging to have your record expunged or sealed in the future. Expungement is a legal process that removes or limits public access to your criminal record.
  • Loss of Rights: In some jurisdictions, a felony conviction resulting from a guilty plea may lead to the loss of certain civil rights, such as the right to vote or possess firearms.
  • Stigma and Social Consequences: Accepting a plea deal may carry a social stigma, and the perception of guilt may affect personal relationships and community standing.

Whether you are made to stand trial in a state or federal court, you need to make sure that you obtain solid legal counsel before entering plea negotiations. If you have already pled guilty, your attorney may be able to use legal strategies to protect your constitutional right. An attorney familiar with mandatory minimum sentencing and other felony convictions for serious crimes will assess all facts of the case before asking you to accept a plea deal.

Legal Options to Get Out of a Plea Deal

Withdrawal of Plea

In some jurisdictions, individuals may have the option to withdraw their plea after it has been accepted. This could occur if there was a legal error, coercion, or a lack of understanding during the plea agreement process. However, the conditions under which a plea can be withdrawn vary and may be subject to court approval.

Appeals Process

If new evidence emerges or there are legal errors in the plea process, you may explore the possibility of filing an appeal. The appeals process allows for a review of the case by a higher court, and it may result in the modification or overturning of the plea agreement.

Post-Conviction Relief

Post-conviction relief mechanisms, such as habeas corpus petitions, may be available to challenge the validity of a plea deal. This avenue could be pursued if there are claims of ineffective assistance of counsel, constitutional violations, or other circumstances that warrant a reexamination of the case.

Sentence Modification

Depending on the jurisdiction and the terms of the plea deal, you may be able to obtain modifications to your sentence. This could involve appealing for a reduced sentence based on factors such as rehabilitation efforts, changes in circumstances, or other compelling reasons.

Clemency or Pardon

In some cases, individuals may explore avenues of executive clemency or a pardon from the governor or president. While these options are often considered after a conviction, they may be relevant for those who accepted a plea deal if there are compelling reasons for reconsideration.

Attorney And His Client Shaking Hands

Why Consult with a Trusted Criminal Defense Lawyer Before Accepting a Plea Deal?

Experienced criminal defense lawyers can assess the strength of your case and identify any weaknesses in the prosecution’s evidence. This evaluation helps you make an informed decision about whether to accept a plea deal or proceed to trial. They may be able to get reduced charges, lighter sentences, or other concessions that align with your best interests.

A dedicated lawyer can explore strategic alternative legal defense options, such as challenging evidence, filing motions to suppress, or pursuing a dismissal of charges. These avenues may be more beneficial than accepting a plea deal in your case.

Discuss a Winning Legal Strategy with our Criminal Defense Attorneys to Have the Charges Against You Dropped

If you find yourself facing criminal charges or a plea deal, our proven and resourceful criminal defense lawyers at the Law Office of Hernandez & Hamilton, PC can ensure that your rights are protected and all available options are exhaustively utilized. Our legal team will tirelessly advocate for your rights, aiming for having the charges against you dropped or reduced. To request your free consultation, call us at 520-882-8823 or complete this online form.

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