If you have been charged with a crime in South Carolina, a conviction could mean fines and jail time. Getting convicted of a crime can impact your life in many other ways as well. As a result, it is important to fight your charge by all means available. But, what if the circumstances of your case are such that you cannot avoid a conviction entirely?
In this scenario, it might be in your best interests to negotiate a plea deal.
When considering a plea deal, it is important to understand what a plea deal is—and what a plea deal isn’t. The “plea” aspect of a plea deal means that you will be pleading guilty to a crime. This means that you will have a conviction on your criminal record; and, depending on the nature of your conviction and your criminal history, your conviction may or may not eventually be eligible for expungement.
But, a plea deal allows you to avoid trial—which could work to your advantage. Instead of waiting to see what sentence the judge or jury decides to impose, you get to play a role in deciding the outcome of your case. If a guilty verdict seems fairly certain, then negotiating a plea deal could allow you to resolve your case with a lesser charge and/or a lesser sentence than you would have faced in court.
When Should You Consider a Plea Deal?
Seeking to negotiate a plea deal isn’t the right approach in all cases. Remember that accepting a plea deal means pleading guilty to a crime. This has serious consequences—even if you are able to secure a reduced charge and/or sentence.
With this in mind, it generally only makes sense to consider a plea deal if there is a good chance that you will be found guilty if you take your case to trial. If you are innocent and your defense lawyer can prove it, or if your defense lawyer is confident that the prosecution won’t be able to meet its burden of proof, then you will likely be better off fighting for a “not guilty” verdict or a pre-trial dismissal.
Negotiating a plea deal also generally isn’t your best option if you are eligible for one of South Carolina’s diversion programs. These programs “divert” your case from trial; and, if you complete the program successfully, your charge will be dropped. You will also be immediately eligible for expungement (in most cases), and your record may even be expunged automatically. South Carolina’s diversion programs include:
- Alcohol Education Program (AEP)
- Drug Court
- Juvenile Arbitration
- Pre-Trial Intervention (PTI)
- Traffic Education Program (TEP)
Why Should You Consider a Plea Deal?
If there is a good chance that you will face a conviction in court, there are several reasons to consider negotiating a plea deal. With that said, you should not write off the possibility of going to trial completely. You should not accept an unreasonable offer; and, if the prosecution is unwilling to negotiate based on the circumstances of your case, then you may have no choice but to fight for your freedom in the courtroom.
If a reasonable plea deal is a possibility in your case, some of the reasons to consider accepting a deal include:
1. You Will Avoid the Inherent Uncertainty of Trial
As discussed above, negotiating a plea deal allows you to avoid the inherent uncertainty of trial. Regardless of the facts of your case, there is always a possibility that the trial won’t go the way you expect. Being innocent doesn’t necessarily mean you will be found not guilty, and deserving leniency doesn’t necessarily mean that you will receive a light sentence.
2. You Will Receive a Reduced Charge and/or Reduced Sentence
By definition, a plea deal involves agreeing to a reduced charge and/or a reduced sentence. If you accept a deal regarding your charge, then the judge will only be able to impose a sentence within the range of the reduced charge to which you agreed. If you negotiate a reduced sentence, then, as long as the judge approves, you will know exactly what to expect from the outcome of your case. In either scenario, negotiating a plea deal takes the harshest possible penalties off of the table—and it has the potential to reduce the consequences of your arrest substantially.
3. You Will Reduce the Costs of Defending Your Case
Avoiding trial also reduces the costs of defending your case since your lawyer won’t have to take your case to trial. While this should not be the driving factor in your decision, it is worth keeping in mind. If a conviction appears unavoidable, then you will want to focus your decision-making on minimizing the costs of your case as much as possible.
Why Might the Prosecution Be Willing to Consider a Plea Deal?
Now that we’ve discussed why you might want to consider a plea deal, why would the prosecution be willing to negotiate—especially if you appear to be guilty?
There are a couple of reasons. First, prosecutors in South Carolina have extremely heavy caseloads. If they can resolve a case without putting in the time and effort to prepare for trial, they will often be willing to do so in the interests of efficiency and judicial economy.
Second, negotiating a plea deal assures a conviction. Just as a plea deal provides certainty for a defendant, it also provides certainty for the prosecution. In many cases, both sides will have a strong interest in negotiating, and this can facilitate a favorable outcome that allows you to move on as soon as possible.
Discuss Your Case with North Charleston Defense Lawyer Rad S. Deaton
If you are facing a criminal charge in South Carolina, should you consider a plea deal? Discuss your case with North Charleston defense lawyer Rad S. Deaton to find out. To schedule a free initial consultation as soon as possible, call 843-225-5723 or tell us how we can contact you online now.