The goal of my criminal defense blog is to provide valuable information to my readers. A frequent question that I receive from clients is when is it appropriate to reject a plea deal. It’s sometimes in a client’s best interest to plead guilty but this isn’t something that one should do without a careful evaluation. Here are the top 5 reasons to reject a deal and go to trial.
5. You have defense fact witnesses and good character.
4. The prosecution’s case is based entirely on hearsay evidence.
3. Your case has pre-trial issues and probably won’t even get to trial.
2. The prosecutor or District Attorney has “over charged” you
1. The offer really isn’t a “deal”.
- You have strong defense fact witnesses on your side and good character.
The evidentiary standard in a criminal trial is guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and that burden is always on the prosecution. Remember that your defense isn’t required to do anything and so it’s prosecution’s burden to prove its case. While the defense technically doesn’t have to do anything, a good defense strategy should focus on creating reasonable doubt in the eyes of the judge or jury.
In addition to cross examining the prosecution’s witnesses, two ways of creating reasonable doubt is through defense fact witnesses and your good character. There is a difference between fact witnesses and character witnesses. Fact witnesses will testify as to what occurred on the day in question because they observed it. Character witnesses aren’t being called to testify to what occurred but rather your reputation in the community for being an honest, peaceful, and law abiding citizen.
Fact witnesses provide the judge or jury with a different version of what actually occurred. The “fact finder” (judge or jury) will have to weigh the two versions and decide whether or not the inconsistencies equate to reasonable doubt. Remember reasonable doubt is the pause a person would have when faced with a decision of great importance. Criminal trials aren’t about proving innocence but rather telling a judge that he or she should have concern about the evidence and that the prosecution therefore hasn’t met their burden of proof.
With regards to character, in Pennsylvania and most jurisdictions, good character alone can create reasonable doubt which means that if a judge or jury believes that your good character causes them to pause, the prosecution hasn’t met its burden and he must find you not guilty.
- The prosecution’s case is based entirely on hearsay evidence.
I’ve written previous articles on hearsay and it is an out of court statement offered for the truth. Keep in mind that hearsay is inadmissible at a criminal trial and only allowable at a pre-trial hearing or motion. While the prosecution may get beyond a preliminary hearing, it won’t be able to introduce hearsay evidence at a criminal trial unless it falls within an exception. The standard at a preliminary hearing is “by a preponderance of the evidence” which is much lower than the evidentiary burden at trial which we spoke about earlier. If the prosecution’s case is based entirely on hearsay, your defense attorney should consider filing pre-trial motions to get the case dismissed. A case based entirely on this type of evidence is incredibly weak and the prosecution will more than likely not be able to prove it’s case against you.
- Your case has pre-trial issues and may not even get to trial!
This goes with point number 4 but the two most powerful pre-trial motions in a criminal case are a motion to quash and motions to suppress evidence. A motion to quash asks the court to dismiss the case because the prosecution is unable to present a case in which a judge or jury could find you guilty. A motion to quash basically says that the prosecution is unable to meet the elements and therefore the case shouldn’t go forward.
In a drug case, for example, where the defendant is charged with possession with the intent to deliver (PWID) drugs or some other controlled substance, a motion to quash would argue that there are no observed drug sales and/ or the district attorney can’t even present an expert to testify as to the defendant’s intent on selling drugs. In this situation the court could dismiss the case on at least the felony drug charge because it would be impossible for the prosecution to meet the burden of proof and no reasonable judge or jury could do it. Motions to Suppress evidence, ask the court to throw out critical pieces of evidence such as drugs from a narcotics prosecution, blood alcohol concentration (content) (BAC) results from a DUI or drunk driving case and even a gun from a VUFA case. Motions to Suppress are based on the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution which protects a person against unreasonable searches and seizures.
- The prosecutor or district attorney has “over charged” you!
Again, the prosecution must meet each and every element of an offense beyond a reasonable doubt. Frequently we’ll see cases where the assistant district attorney or prosecutor will have little, if any chance of getting a conviction on all of the charges especially the most serious felony offense. There are degrees of offenses in Pennsylvania. An aggravated assault, for example, can be a felony of the first on second degree but it can also be the misdemeanor offense of simple assault. A robbery, like an aggravated assault, can be graded as felony of the first, second or even third degree depending upon the circumstances surrounding what happened. If you’re considering a plea offer, your criminal defense lawyer needs to consider not only the charges but the degrees of the offense. This can make a huge difference during the evaluation of a plea offer.
- The offer really isn’t a “deal”!
If the prosecution is making an offer that is equal to the sentencing guidelines, you really aren’t getting a deal! Most judges even after a conviction will determine a sentence based on a set of guidelines that are published. Going to trial isn’t about proving your innocence or even being innocent but your risk vs. your reward of litigation.
For more information I encourage you to keep reading my blog and visit my free download section which provides some great information on criminal defense strategies and tactics in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.