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Why Defendants Should Never Negotiate Their Own Plea Deals

March 29, 2022

When a defendant is charged with a crime, they are given the opportunity to have their case heard by a jury. If possible, defendants should insist on going to trial because plea bargains are typically considered sub-optimal strategies when compared to the normally obtainable outcome in a criminal case. Read on for further details and advice on why you should never negotiate plea deals on your own.

What Is a Plea?

The first thing to know is what a plea bargain is. A plea bargain is an agreement between the defendant and the prosecutor, wherein the defendant pleads guilty in exchange for a lesser charge or less time in prison. In other words, the defendant agrees to plead guilty to something that isn't necessarily true or at least isn't entirely true in exchange for something that he or she wants.

Plea bargaining has many advantages for both defendants and prosecutors. Obviously, it saves time and money for everyone involved because there's no trail. And because most criminal cases never go to trial, it's also very effective at getting people into jail without having to hear their side of the story.

Why You Should Never Get Into a Plea on Your Own

Negotiating Experience

Negotiating with prosecutors is difficult, especially if you're not sure what to say or how to say it. Prosecutors are highly trained and know how to get defendants to accept unfavorable plea bargains, but an experienced criminal defense attorney knows all the tricks and can help you avoid falling into common traps.

Informed Decision Making

Defendants who do not have legal experience often misunderstand what they're being charged with, which means they can't always make informed decisions about whether going to trial or negotiating a plea bargain would be in their best interests. While your criminal defense attorney will explain everything in detail, he or she will also provide you with advice regarding whether accepting a plea deal would be in your best interests or whether going to trial is more likely to result in a favorable outcome.

You Might Get Sentenced to More Time than You'd Get at Trial

Many defendants overestimate how much time they'd spend in prison if a jury found them guilty at trial. In reality, juries are reluctant to send people away for long prison sentences unless the evidence against them is overwhelming. This is particularly true if their crime was nonviolent and didn't involve drugs or alcohol.

You May Not Know All the Evidence Against You

Prosecutors will only disclose so much evidence before a defendant pleads guilty. Depending on the state, this may be "Brady material" only — evidence that could clear the defendant or reduce their sentence — or it may include other evidence such as police reports. If there is evidence that could be used to clear your name or reduce your sentence, but it isn't disclosed, you may wind up pleading guilty and accepting a harsher penalty than necessary.

In short, the answer to this question is yes: defendants are better off hiring attorneys to negotiate their plea deals for them. They will be able to protect their interests throughout the process and get a much better outcome in the end.