If you are currently facing criminal charges in California and you plan to plead guilty to the charges you may be contemplating whether or not to retain the service of an attorney. After all, the plea agreements offered by the prosecuting attorney are all the same right? Wrong. While it may be true that a prosecuting attorney often begins the plea agreement negotiation process with the same basic plea in similar cases that does not mean that the final agreement is the same for all defendants. In fact, that is precisely why you should hire an attorney – to ensure that the original plea agreement offered to you is negotiated down to the best possible plea agreement you can get.
A typical prosecuting attorney is overworked with a caseload that is twice the size it should be. Therefore, a significant incentive often exists for a prosecutor to resolve a case via a plea agreement. Unless the case is a major felony, or involves serious harm to victims, a prosecutor will usually make an initial plea agreement offer early on in the case. Defendants frequently make the mistake of taking that initial offer, particularly if the offer eliminates the possibility of jail time. While this is understandable, it may not be the smartest route to take.
Just as with any type of negotiation, the prosecutor’s initial offer typically reflects the best possible terms for the State of California. For example, even if no jail time is included the offer may include a lengthy (and costly) term of probation, hefty fines and costs, and numerous special conditions to be completed while on probation. Yes, that may sound better than going to jail; however, is that really the best offer you can get? Probably not.
An experienced criminal defense attorney helps in two ways. First, your attorney knows the prosecutor and knows what the bottom line offer is likely to be. Your attorney also likely knows what strategy to use to get the prosecutor to consider an even better plea agreement. Second, your attorney can evaluate how strong the State’s case is against you and exploit any weaknesses in the case during plea negotiations. For example, if you are charged with DUI and your chemical test result was close to 0.08 your attorney will point out the margin of error on the breath test machine and/or the various defenses that can be used to explain away a test result that close to the legal limit.
Don’t assume that all plea agreements are the same. Consult with an experienced California criminal defense attorney before accepting a plea agreement.