The Last Minute Plea Bargain

I handle big cases regularly. Murder, aggravated robbery, sexual assault of a child, drug delivery, cases with enhancement paragraphs making punishment ranges 25-life, et cetera. The stakes in these cases are obviously huge. When that state has a good case, they can play hardball and offer no quarter, no mercy. Those cases often go to trial.

Then there are other cases where the chances of winning are much better for my clients. Take the case I had for trial this week: an aggravated sexual assault of a child under the age of 6. It doesn't get much higher-stakes than that. No probation eligibility, 25-life sentencing, and no parole eligibility (meaning whatever sentence someone gets, they're doing that sentence flat with no breaks for early release). Add on top of all of that the fact that most jurors come in heavily biased against someone accused of so heinous a crime. Let's be honest, they start out with 1 foot already firmly in the "guilty" camp. It's tough to get not guilty verdicts in these cases. 

The perverse twist is when the chances start to lean in my clients' favor, the prosecutor often starts making big-time plea bargain offers. How about deferred probation? How about reducing the offense? What will it take to make a deal....? Because the stakes are so high, clients often blink and take the deal. Some regret it later, some don't. They never get their day in court, so they (and I) will never know what would've happened. On the other hand, they get to make a deal few other people get, where they avoid huge prison time. 

It can be frustrating for me professionally when this happens. Obviously I'm happy for my client if he/she is happy. It's their choice because they're the ones who have to live with the consequences of their decision one way or another. But for me, when only the really bad cases go to trial and many of the good cases take last minute plea bargains, that can be really defeating. 

I have to rest on knowing that my client got a great outcome. Not a "not guilty" verdict like I had hoped, but one where my client and their family thanked me profusely. 

Mike Howard1 Comment