Want to go to trial? Think again. If you take this deal, you get two years in prison. If you go to trial and lose, you get twenty.
A recent article in the New York Times, Sentencing Shift Gives New Leverage to Prosecutors, discusses how tough mandatory minimum sentencing laws have empowered prosecutors to obtain guilty pleas and discouraged defendants from going to trial. The implicit question in the article is whether innocent defendants are coerced into taking plea deals.
There is no doubt that whether your are guilty or not is not the only factor being considered when deciding whether to accept a plea deal. We know that individuals who have been exonerated of murder by DNA evidence include those who actually have pled guilty. (Click here to see the recent cases of Robert Wilcoxson and Kenneth Kagonyera.) Harsh sentencing laws and sentencing enhancements with steep mandatory minimums – which DAs can drop as part of a plea agreement, but judges have little or no discretion to dismiss if the person is convicted – discourage even those who are innocent from taking their cases to trial.
All of this highlights the importance of choosing an attorney carefully. No attorney can guaranty that you will win at trial, but your lawyer can and should prepare your case thoroughly and advise you clearly about the risks and rewards.