Most cases in the Illinois criminal justice system do not end in a trial. Instead, in most cases a criminal defendant accepts a plea deal, also called a plea bargain. Before you decide if a plea bargain is right for you, it is important to understand how they work.
The Criminal Justice Process
Pleas are used by prosecutors to help keep the criminal justice system moving. Often, a defendant will receive a plea offer early on in the case. One of the first formal steps in a criminal case is the arraignment. This is a court hearing where the defendant is told what he or she is being charged with and where the defendant enters a plea of guilty, not guilty, or another legally acceptable plea.
Many criminal defendants have been offered plea deals prior to arraignment. This means they have the chance to plead guilty to a specific offense in exchange for the prosecutor agreeing to drop other charges or in exchange for the prosecutor recommending a lighter sentence. However, even if a not guilty plea is entered at the arraignment, there is often still a chance for a plea deal at a later point before trial.
Reasons to Consider Accepting a Plea Offer
For some criminal defendants, a plea offer is a good deal. If the evidence against you is overwhelming, and you have a chance to have your charges reduced or in some cases have some charges dismissed, you may want to accept the plea deal. The basic factors you need to consider when evaluating a plea deal include:
- Are you guilty of the crime?
- What would the likely result of a trial be?
- Can you avoid jail or prison time by accepting a deal?
- Can you lessen the time you have to spend in jail or prison by accepting a deal?
- What will be the other consequences in your life of a criminal conviction?
Reasons to Consider Rejecting a Plea Offer
In most cases, it is not in your best interest to accept a plea deal. The prosecutor has a high burden of proof to prove to a judge or jury that you are guilty of a crime. If after consulting with your lawyer, you believe that the evidence against you will not be enough to prove your guilt, it will be in your best interest to reject a plea deal. It is up to the State to prove you guilty, as a defendant, you are not required to prove anything.
Other reasons to consider rejecting a plea deal include:
- You are not guilty;
- The State has a weak case against you;
- The plea deal does not lessen the amount of time you are likely to face in jail or prison; or
Deciding whether or not to accept a plea deal is a difficult personal decision that should not be made lightly. You will need to consult with your lawyer and spend time thinking about all of the possible outcomes of going to trial or in choosing to accept a plea deal. If you have been charged with a crime, you need to speak with a skilled Joliet criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Call 815-740-4025 to discuss your case with a free, no-obligation consultation at the Law Office of Jack L. Zaremba today.