Although the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees all criminal defendants the right to a trial by jury, a very small percentage of criminal cases ever make it that far. Rule 17.4 of the Arizona Rules of Criminal Procedure provides that the parties in a criminal action may negotiate and reach an agreement on any aspect of their case. Such agreements, commonly referred to as “plea agreements” or “plea bargains,” occur with such frequency that it is reported that more than 90 percent of criminal cases across the country are resolved through plea bargaining.
If you are charged with a crime in Arizona, chances are high you will be offered a plea. Deciding whether to accept a plea bargain in Arizona is not a decision you want to make without guidance from a skilled Phoenix defense lawyer.
From a broad policy perspective, plea bargaining provides benefits to prosecutors, defendants, and the judicial system. Informal communication between the attorneys promotes greater understanding and appreciation of the strengths and weaknesses of both sides of the case. When an agreement is reached, both parties are able to avoid long and expensive litigation. Plea bargains also economize the usage of the judicial system, which would grind to a halt if a trial were necessary in every case.
However, not every plea offer is fair, and some offers made by the prosecutor should be rejected or answered with a counteroffer. To use a car purchasing transaction as an analogy, a person interested in buying a car would carefully consider all the terms of a seller’s offer before agreeing to purchase the car. If the car is too expensive, the buyer would reject the seller’s offer, or make a counteroffer. Similarly, a criminal defendant must evaluate a prosecutor’s offer and determine whether it is fair. Below are some of the many factors to consider.
Factual issues include the testimony and credibility, or believability, of the witnesses, along with other evidence in the case. A lawyer must carefully review all the evidence and attempt to determine the likelihood of success at trial.
Legal and procedural issues include subjects such as the admissibility of evidence and the potential success of pre-trial motions. For example, if the police conducted an improper search, a good criminal defense attorney knows the evidence obtained in the illegal search may be excluded from trial, which increases the strength of the defendant’s negotiating position.
If the defendant’s case is strong, it might be advisable to take the case to trial and seek an acquittal. In such situations the prosecutor often perceives the weakness in the government’s case and should make a much better plea offer. For example, in many cases Howard Snader has convinced the prosecutor to dismiss the charges against his clients, or to agree to a significantly reduced sentence.
Prosecutor – There may be more risk associated with taking a case to trial against an experienced and talented prosecutor, than against a less talented or less experienced prosecutor. Similarly, some prosecutors have much more experience prosecuting one class of crimes than another. For example, one prosecutor may be more experienced with drug crimes, while another prosecutor is more experienced with sex crimes.
Judge – If the parties reach a plea agreement acceptable to the Court, the judge will impose the sentence agreed upon by the parties. However, if a case goes to trial and the defendant is convicted, the judge will determine the sentence. Many judges have long histories on the bench and have sentenced hundreds or thousands of defendants. Knowing a judge’s past sentencing history can help a criminal defendant weight the risk of refusing a plea offer and going to trial.
If you’ve been charged with a crime and need help evaluating your case or negotiating a resolution with the prosecutor, contact Howard Snader at 602-899-0590. He has resolved hundreds of cases through effective plea bargaining. Plus, if a trial is necessary, Mr. Snader can use his years of litigation experience to seek the best possible result for your case.