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Should You Plead or Go to Trial on Criminal Charges in Federal Court?

October 5, 2021 Federal Criminal Attorneys

If you are charged with a federal crime, you have the option of negotiating a plea deal or taking your case to trial. In a vast majority of federal cases, defendants opt to plead guilty as opposed to letting a jury decide their fates. According to Pew Research, only 2% of such matters go to trial in a given year. Let’s take a closer look at why so many people choose to accept a plea deal and whether it may be in your best interest to accept the prosecutor’s offer in your proceeding.

Why Do So Many Defendants Accept Plea Deals in Federal Cases?

The primary reason why defendants tend to take plea deals in federal cases is that the plea deal often represents the best outcome that they are going to get. As a general rule, prosecutors will stack charges on top of charges if they have to secure a conviction in a courtroom.

Introducing additional charges increases the likelihood that a jury will find you guilty of something even if it isn’t the crime that you were originally accused of committing. For example, let’s say that you were charged with being in possession of a controlled substance. If you plead guilty to the charge, your punishment may include little more than probation and a token fine.

However, if you opt for a trial, you might face weapons charges, money laundering charges or whatever other charges may be appropriate based on the evidence authorities have on you. In such a scenario, you may be more likely to simply accept a plea deal as opposed to being convicted on even a minor charge.

Many Accept a Plea Deal Because Doing So Provides Certainty

It isn’t uncommon for federal trials to last for several months or years. If you are unable to make bail, you will likely spend that time in federal custody, which is akin to being punished before you’re even found guilty. By pleading guilty, you know how much time that you’ll have to serve in prison, where you’ll likely serve that time and whether you have the possibility of being paroled. In addition, knowing what your future holds makes it easier to manage your assets and make plans to ensure that your kids are properly cared for while you’re away.

A Plea Deal Allows You To Be There for Your Kids

If you are a single parent, accepting a plea deal may ensure that your kids stay out of the foster care system. In some cases, not being there for your kids may result in losing custody of a son or daughter. Therefore, taking a plea deal may be a convenient way to minimize the damage that your actions may cause to the health and safety of your offspring.

Why Would You Seek a Trial?

As there are many potential benefits to taking a plea deal, you may wonder why anyone would want to seek a trial in a federal case. Perhaps the best reason to seek a trial is that you are relatively certain that the allegations against you are based on shoddy evidence. If you can prove that a government employee, police officer or another witness lied about your actions, it may be enough to have a case dismissed.

The same may be true if you can prove that evidence was obtained in an illegal manner. Your attorney will do everything in his or her power to cast doubt on the allegations made against you in court. Even if an attorney’s actions aren’t enough to get a full acquittal, it may help to create leverage for a better plea deal.

It’s Your Right to Seek a Trial

It’s important to note that it is your legal right to seek a trial, and this is true regardless of how much pressure a prosecutor, your attorney or anyone else puts on you to simply accept a plea deal. It’s also worth noting that you have the right to a speedy trial. Generally speaking, this means that you have the right to receive an outcome in your matter within several months of being charged. However, your attorney will likely advise you to waive this right as a few months may not be long enough to create a quality defense.

If you are facing federal charges, you should hire an attorney to help with your case as soon as possible. Doing so may prevent you from saying or doing anything that might aid the government in its investigation into your prior activities. Furthermore, an attorney may be able to ensure that all of your legal rights are protected whether you choose to plead guilty or want to take your case to trial.

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