It’s relatively common for prosecutors in New Jersey and elsewhere to offer plea deals in criminal cases. Doing so may help to resolve cases in a timely and affordable manner, which enables authorities to use their limited resources to try cases deemed to be the most important. However, you are under no obligation to accept a plea deal in your case.
The trial penalty
Although you are under no obligation to accept a plea deal, you may be risking a harsher sentence if convicted after a trial. On average, those who are convicted after rejecting a plea deal face sentences that are three times longer than those given to defendants who agree to plead guilty to the same charges. Some people refer to this as a trial penalty, which a group called the End the Trial Penalty Coalition seeks to abolish. The group hopes to give more discretion to judges to alter sentences and to give defendants more information prior to accepting or rejecting a deal.
A plea deal is a conviction
Accepting a plea deal may seem like a shrewd criminal defense strategy that might help you avoid jail or prison time. However, it may also result in you accepting responsibility for something you didn’t do just to avoid a larger interruption to your life if convicted. It’s likely that you won’t even see all the evidence against you, which would help you make an educated decision about your chances of being convicted at trial.
If convicted of a crime, you may spend time in jail, pay a fine or lose a professional license. Pleading guilty eliminates the opportunity to cast doubt about witness testimony, test results or other evidence that could increase your chances of obtaining an acquittal in your case.