September 28, 2023
When someone is charged with a criminal offense on TV, the defendant usually goes to trial in a dramatic courtroom battle. However, while some cases do go to trial in the real-life criminal justice system, most defendants don’t ever end up in the midst of a courtroom battle.
This is because the vast majority of cases – over 90% – end in plea bargains. That means that fewer than 1 in 10 people facing either state or federal charges go to trial.
So, what exactly is a plea bargain? This is something that occurs when the defendant pleads guilty to a crime in exchange for a lesser charge, reduced sentence, or some other form of leniency.
Plea bargains benefit the criminal justice system by reducing prosecutors’ caseloads and freeing up courtroom dockets. They also guarantee prosecutors a guilty verdict.
It begs an important question, though: are plea bargains in the best interest of the defendant?
The short answer is that it depends. Although a plea bargain should always be considered, factors such as the severity of your charges, the prosecution’s case against you, and what deal the prosecution has offered will all weigh in.
So let’s take a look at how plea bargains work, and whether it’s in your best interests to take one if you’re facing Colorado drug crime charges.
How Do Plea Bargains Work in Colorado?
A plea bargain is an agreement between the prosecution and defense in which the defendant pleads guilty or no contest to criminal charges in exchange for the prosecution reducing the number or severity of charges, or somehow decreasing the defendant’s sentence.
Plea bargaining has practical benefits for both the prosecution and the defense:
- Defendants avoid the cost of defending themselves at trial, the risk of a harsher sentence, and the negative publicity a trial could potentially evoke.
- The prosecution is saved the time and expense of a trial.
- Both the prosecution and the defense are saved the inherent uncertainty of a jury trial.
In most cases, plea bargains are offered to the defense before the case goes to trial. The defendant is offered reduced charges or sentencing in exchange for a guilty plea.
If the plea bargain is accepted, the defendant waives his or her right to a trial by jury, and is forced to admit guilt in exchange for a lesser sentence. Likewise, the prosecution waives their right to prosecute the defendant to the “fullest extent of the law,” but is guaranteed a guilty conviction.
In the eyes of the prosecution, a conviction is often the most important priority. Prosecutors are therefore likely to suggest a plea bargain, and in some cases may even pressure defendants to take a plea deal.
What Does a Typical Plea Deal for a Colorado Drug Charge Look Like?
If you are facing drug charges, a plea deal could greatly reduce the criminal penalties you face. For example, if you’re facing a drug trafficking charge for allegedly trafficking 15 grams of cocaine, you could face a felony conviction punishable by up to 16 years in prison and $750,000 in fines.
Depending on your prior criminal record and the circumstances of the alleged offense, the prosecution may opt to reduce the charge to drug possession, which would still be a felony, but carries a prison sentence of 2-6 years and a fine of $2,000-$500,000.
In most plea deals, you should expect for the sentence to be on the lower end of these ranges – a significant reduction from the sentence you would face for a trafficking conviction. In some cases, the prosecution may further reduce your sentence, or even offer you probation instead of jail time.
So, Should You Take a Plea Bargain for a Drug Offense?
The thing to remember is that no matter how good a plea deal looks, you are still forced to plead guilty. If you are innocent of the crime you’re being accused of, this can be a hard pill for many to swallow.
You always have the right to defend yourself in court, but if you do so, you will have to fight hard for your innocence and make sure you are employing the strongest possible defense strategy.
Moreover, the reality is that prosecutors don’t like to lose. Because of this, they only tend to bring criminal charges when they believe a defendant is guilty, and that their case is strong enough to win a conviction. Prosecutors will sometimes even threaten or cajole a defendant into pleading guilty. If you refuse, this can spur prosecutors to go after the maximum penalty at trial.
It’s not an easy decision, which is just one reason why you need to immediately contact an experienced Denver criminal defense attorney as soon as you are charged with a drug crime. When you are offered a plea bargain – and it’s practically inevitable that you will be – an attorney can help you determine whether you’re being offered a good deal, and they can advocate for you in the negotiation process.
About the Author:
Denver-based criminal defense and DUI attorney Jacob E. Martinez is a knowledgeable and experienced litigator with a record of success providing innovative solutions to clients facing criminal charges of any severity. Mr. Martinez has been designated a Top 100 Trial Lawyer by the National Trial Lawyers and has been awarded both the Avvo Client’s Choice Award and Avvo Top Attorney designation, evidencing his reputation for his exemplary criminal and DUI defense work and high moral standards.