Although television and movies make it seem that nearly every legal conflict results in a dramatic trial, the reality is that the majority of cases in the California criminal justice system never go to trial. In fact, in most cases, a criminal defendant forgoes his or her constitutional right to a trial by a jury of his or her peers. Most defendants accept a plea deal, sometimes called a “plea bargain.” While defendants are supposed to make this decision of their own free will, many experts are concerned that defendants are accepting plea deals only because the risk of going to trial is too great. Many consider this trend a violation of the U.S Constitution’s Sixth Amendment right to trial.
When someone is charged with a crime, one of the first steps he or she will encounter in the legal system is the arraignment. The arraignment is a court hearing during which the defendant is informed of his or her charges and is given the opportunity to enter his or her plea. The defendant can enter a plea of guilty, not guilty, or no contest. (Other pleas may be available, depending on the specific jurisdiction and circumstances.)
Most criminal defendants are offered a chance to face lesser charges by taking a plea deal. The defendant must plead guilty to one or more crimes in order to avoid being charged with more serious crime(s). Often, the prosecutor agrees to drop some charges or recommend a lighter sentence in order to encourage the defendant to take this plea deal. The difference between the sentence offered as a part of a plea deal and the sentence a defendant would face after trial is called the “trial penalty.”
Many believe that the trial penalty has become so severe that it has nearly eradicated criminal defendants’ constitutional right to a trial. Accused persons end up surrendering fundamental rights which are vital to an impartial justice system. A report recently released by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) is the culmination of years of research regarding sentencing trends. The report showed that fewer than 3% of federal criminal cases result in a trial. That means over 97% of criminal cases are resolved by plea. The NACDL says they intend to work to decrease the abuse of the trial penalty throughout the state and federal criminal justice systems.
If you have been accused of a crime, do not hesitate to seek qualified legal guidance regarding whether you should take a plea deal or not. Contact an experienced San Jose criminal defense attorney today. To schedule a consultation with The Law Office of Wesley Schroeder, call 408-2770377.