Any person thrust into the criminal justice system by a citation, DUI, accusation, summons or arrest ultimately faces this question in all likelihood: Should I take a deal, or should I go to trial? This post addresses the legal and practical concerns facing anyone who likely will be, or has been offered a deal by the prosecutor.
The answer to that question is rarely clear. In fact, the answer to the question of trial or settlement often triggers a variety of different questions from criminal defendants.
Am I actually innocent of all of the charges? Am I actually innocent of some of the charges? Can the Government prove my guilt beyond a reasonable doubt? What will my punishment be? How will this case affect my loved-ones? How bad does it look?
Unfortunately, none of these questions are easily answered, and all must be considered.
The way to approach the trial/deal question is to first think of everyone’s basic Constitutional rights. The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that no one “…shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law…” An important part of this due process is the burden the Government carries, which is to prove to a Jury that the accused is guiltily beyond a reasonable doubt.
Next consider two basic requirements the prosecutor has to win at trial. (1) Can the prosecutor prove a crime was committed? (2) Can the prosecutor prove you committed the crime.
To answer the first question, consider a DUI arrest. The prosecutor must essentially prove that (1) you were (2) in actual physical control of a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Analyzing this in any criminal case requires a serious look at all the discovery in a case. Discovery is the Government’s reports, statements, blood, DNA, fingerprints, etc.
At the time a person is forced to decide between trial and settlement, whether the discovery will prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt is the sole legal question. If the answer is a close call, a person should be mindful of the consequences in rolling the dice. Often, the punishment dolled out by a Judge after a person accepts responsibility and effectively presents evidence of mitigation at sentencing is less than if a person sees a case through trial and is convicted. The primary benefit to a deal is that you have some control over your fate. By contrast, a guilty plea is not a complete acquittal by a Jury of your peers at trial, which is your chance to go home free of any conviction.
When an offer to settle is made, a person should also be mindful of the fact that no matter their actual innocence, or how skilled their attorney—the Government wins at trial the large majority of the time. In fact, the United States Attorneys’ Office reported a 93% conviction rate in 2012. See, http://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/usao/legacy/2013/10/28/12statrpt.pdf
This 93% conviction rate should never be ignored when deciding on whether to take deal or not.
However, this conviction rate is not 100%, and strategic litigation combined with hard work towards justice can prevail.
In short, a person’s decision on whether to take a deal or take their case to trial is a thought process involving analysis of the risk involved. However, with good advice from an attorney who truly has your best interests at heart, you will be more likely to confidently make this decision.
If you have questions about a citation, DUI, accusation, summons, arrest or any criminal charge in Nevada, feel free to contact me, attorney Rich Tanasi at 702-906-2411 or RTanasi@TanasiLaw.com. I am here to help.