Have you ever wondered how some lawyers are able get their client’s criminal case dismissed or the charges reduced in a plea deal while other clients end up settling for terrible plea deals that their lawyers negotiated?
From time to time I will get a phone call from someone whose attorney has already negotiated a plea deal with the prosecutor. For a variety of reasons – the client is unhappy with the plea agreement their lawyer negotiated for them. These unhappy clients will call to ask me (a) if I think the deal is good or not, (b) if I would have handled it differently, and (c) if I could do something to “fix it.” I tell them, like everything in life, “it depends.”
I know that if you ask two criminal defense attorneys the same question, you will get two different answers. I also know that hiring a skilled, creative and aggressive criminal defense lawyer is your ticket to fighting the charges against you! Could I have gotten them a better deal by handling their case differently? I’m always confident that I could have! My confidence notwithstanding, there are some valid reasons why you might not be getting the deal you think that you deserve:
1. The prosecutor assigned to your case – if you get a young or overly ambitious prosecutor looking for a promotion or looking to score political points, they will hold back on offering reduced penalties. Instead they will offer higher penalties at the start of negotiations. Also, in order to reduce a charge to a lesser one, the more junior prosecutors first have to ask a supervisor. Occasionally, a reasonable prosecutor may want to agree to a reduced charge or sentence – but their supervisor will not approve it. When that occurs, I make every effort to overcome any resistance by dealing directly with the supervisor. Additionally, the harder I fight for my client (by conducting comprehensive depositions of the State’s witnesses, by filing Motions to Suppress Evidence, etc.) the more likely I can secure a better plea deal. If a case has been on a Judge’s docket for a long time, I know that the Judge wants to “move” the case forward and is more willing to agree to favorable plea terms if I include the Judge in plea negotiations.
2. The Victim: If a person is the victim of a crime (whether violent crime, financial crime or property crime) that injured victim can have significant impact on the outcome of a case. If the victim is persistent and demands the maximum punishment allowed by law, the prosecutor is likely to push for a very unfavorable plea deal. However, if the victim does not show up at court hearings, or if the victim appears as if they don’t care about the outcome of the case – the prosecutor will be able to offer more generous terms in a plea deal negotiations.
3. Your prior record, criminal history: Few criminal defense lawyers can work miracles. If you have a prior criminal record indicating multiple arrests and multiple convictions, the possibility of getting a favorable plea deal is slim. For example, if you have committed several minor criminal violations and received withholds of adjudication, it is unlikely you will get a withhold on any new criminal charge. Although a prior criminal history cannot be erased, there are many powerful and effective strategies for fighting and beating a misdemeanor or felony charge, as well as minimizing the negative impact of a prior criminal record.
Who you choose as your criminal defense lawyer, DOES make a difference!