Plea Bargaining 101
Information regarding plea bargaining is aimed not only toward the guilty, but also the innocent, and most especially the overcharged (those who may be guilty of SOME criminal conduct, BUT NOT ALL charges or enhancements the district attorney has alleged). In all matters of the court, plea bargaining is truly something that everyone should understand and consider. Even the innocent would be advantaged to consider the possibilities, no matter how "innocent" they might be. Going to a jury trial is a roll of dice—even with the best attorneys and the most exonerating evidence in the world, you just never know what kind of decision a jury of 12 people will come to with your case!
Surprisingly, an overwhelming number of criminal cases end up in plea bargains, the reason being that most people are either guilty of something or that they risk losing a lot by going to trial. Of course, in any such situation, the real dilemma lies in knowing IF you should plea bargain and knowing WHEN you should plea bargain. What makes such a dilemma even more difficult is that the quicker a plea bargain can be negotiated, the better off the deal will be for the accused. Unfortunately (or fortunately in many cases), the accused may not know early on or may not have enough trust in their lawyer yet to allow him/her to cut a deal. Good plea negotiations are best utilized when you are your lawyer have a solid relationship of trust, knowledge and thorough analysis.
Most court systems in California have set appearance dates designated to settle cases. These appearance dates can be called many different names, some of which do not sound like settlement appearances, such as felony disposition conference, readiness conference, status conference and re-trial conference, among many others.
Whatever these appearance dates might be called, they are nothing less than the legal system’s attempt to resolve cases short of a time-consuming trial. In a global way, it is correct that if every defendant insisted on going to trial, the system would break down very quickly. It is also correct though that in certain cases, the government will be very determined to take a case to trial, no matter how timely or expensive the trial may be.
As an accused, you will need to understand this process and take advantage of it in order to minimize any damages to your life. Sometimes, these are extremely difficult decisions and involve set amounts of incarceration time. Whether your situation is a lightweight one or heavyweight juggernaut, you need to move swiftly and with sound judgment to achieve the best possible result. This means both understanding the facts against you and understanding how you and your case are viewed by the system.
With rare exception, the accused normally will know whether or not they are indeed guilty. However, knowing how strong the evidence against you might be is entirely different matter. Witnesses and forensic evidence may exist in a realm of which the accused is entirely unaware. This damning evidence could be almost anything, from someone nearby a crime writing down the license plate number of a car speeding away, to the accused leaving a unique shoe print in a patch of dirt on a path not far from where the crime occurred. When it comes to the courts pursuit of a guilty verdict, never underestimate the power of science to gather fibers, hairs and other trace evidence that can often be more powerful than any eyewitness indemnification or crime partner statement.