Is a plea bargain the right choice?

Every day, people in Minneapolis are arrested and charged with committing a crime. Many are unfamiliar with the workings of the judicial system and the arrest, processing and filing of charges can be overwhelming. This can encourage people accused of domestic violence, murder or even DWI, to agree to a plea bargain.

A win-win agreement

According to Frontline, plea bargains account for convictions in 95 percent of all felony cases in the U.S. In a plea bargain agreement, a person facing rape charges, or some other type of crime, agrees to plead guilty if the prosecution reduces the charge. As a result of this bargain, people receive a lesser sentence.

At first glance, a plea bargain sounds like a win-win agreement for everyone concerned. It gives prosecutors the ability to move on to other cases; witnesses are spared the ordeal of testifying; tax payers do not have to pay for a trial; and defendants receive a better outcome. However, many people argue that the common use of plea bargains interferes with the judicial system.

Claims of abuse

Many legal professionals claim the plea bargain system is often abused. When a plea bargain is placed on the table, the defendant has no idea how strong or weak the evidence is. In fact, prosecutors often argue that their case is quite strong when it may only be based on circumstantial evidence. The offer of a reduced charge and guaranteed lower sentence is more tempting than relying on 12 people to determine innocence.

One serious concern over plea bargains is the fact that innocent people take them. Some people agree in order to spare their family or themselves from public criticism. Others accept a plea to put an end to the legal ordeal and move on with their lives. A man in California accepted a plea deal when he was accused of kidnapping and rape, but claimed innocence. The deal allowed him to avoid a potential 41-year prison sentence. After spending 10 years in prison, the man’s accuser recanted the claim.

Minnesota and plea bargains

Before judges in Minnesota accept a plea bargain they are required, under the state’s guilty plea procedure, to make sure defendants have had time to discuss their situation with legal defense counsel. Judges are also required to ensure that defendants understand the case facts, are satisfied with the counsel they received and are not under any type of threat. For people considering a plea bargain, this decision is not one that should be made lightly. Careful thought and consideration of the pros and cons is necessary in determining whether it is the right choice.

Max Keller has won countless jury trial cases involving misdemeanors and felonies, sex crimes, and DWI’s. He is a member of the Minnesota Society for Criminal Justice, which only allows the top 50 criminal defense attorneys in the state as members. Max is a frequent speaker at CLE’s and is often asked for advice by other defense attorneys across Minnesota.

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