You have the constitutional right to a trial in a criminal case. A trial allows you, the defendant, to challenge the evidence against you and cross-examine witnesses. It protects the assumption that you are innocent until proven guilty. However, not all cases go this route. Most are settled through plea deals. This is where the defendant strikes a bargain with the prosecutor, agreeing to plead guilty in exchange for more lenient charges and/or sentencing. Going to trial has its advantages and disadvantages. Whether your case is heard in court or settled through a plea depends on the facts and what you decide is the best path after considering your criminal defense lawyer’s advice.
Don’t All Criminal Cases Go to Trial?
Except in state matters involving minor misdemeanors or offenses with penalties that do not include a term of incarceration and a fine of not more than $1,000, you have the right to a jury trial.
The trial process involves:
- Selecting a jury: If you do not waive your right to a jury trial, a group of people from the community will be chosen to hear and decide your case.
- Opening statements: The prosecutor and your defense attorney may each present a summary of the arguments they will make and the evidence they will use to support them.
- Presenting evidence: The prosecutor and your defense attorney may submit physical material or call upon witnesses to strengthen their arguments or weaken the other side’s.
- Returning a verdict: After hearing the evidence, the judge or jury will decide whether you are guilty of the alleged offense.
- Imposing a sentence: If you are found guilty, the judge may order that you serve a term of incarceration and/or pay a fine. They may subject you to other penalties depending on the facts.
- Appealing the decision: You can challenge the trial court’s decision by arguing that a legal error influenced the outcome.
The right to have your case heard in an open court and by a panel of your peers ensures a fair justice process. The state and federal governments have a lot of power in prosecuting and punishing you, or any person, charged with a crime. The right to a trial keeps that power in check by allowing the public to observe the proceedings and ensure that the government does not overstep its authority.
That said, most criminal cases do not reach trial. Although no exact numbers exist, about less than 10% are heard in court.
What’s the Alternative to Trial?
The way your case may be resolved without going to trial is through a plea deal. A plea deal is a bargain between the prosecution and the defendant. It involves the defendant pleading guilty to the alleged offense in exchange for a more favorable outcome.
Possible results of a plea deal include the prosecutor agreeing to:
- Drop some of the charges,
- Reduce some of the charges, or
- Recommend a lighter sentence.
What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Trial?
Taking your case to trial has pros and cons.
A few of the advantages include the following:
- Different perspectives: If a jury hears your case, you benefit from having several members of the community analyzing the evidence. They may interpret things differently than the prosecutor would. Where the prosecutor might have seen something pointing to your guilt, the jury might see it otherwise.
- Challenging evidence: When your case goes to trial, your defense attorney can cross-examine witnesses and point to holes in the prosecutor’s arguments. The judge or jury may consider your defense attorney’s alternate explanations, raising doubt in their minds.
- Time to prepare: Your trial will be set for the next available date with the court, which can be a couple of months out. This gives your defense lawyer more time to build your legal strategy.
Below are some of the disadvantages of a trial:
- Less control: You don’t know the minds of the judge or jury. While their different perspectives can help your case, they can also hurt it. When you settle through a plea deal, you have more control over the outcome.
- Takes longer: Several factors may extend the time it takes to resolve your case at trial. Examples of these variables include impaneling a jury, setting a court date, and waiting for the jury to deliberate.
- Greater cost: Going to trial can be more expensive than settling through a plea because more time and resources are needed to defend a case in court.
Your defense attorney can discuss the pros and cons of going to trial or striking a deal with the prosecutor in greater detail. They should provide the information you need to make an informed and confident decision about how your case proceeds.
Speak with a Member of Our Team
At Patituce & Associates, we seek favorable outcomes for our clients. In some cases, that might mean litigating; in others, negotiating. Whatever path your matter takes, we will be prepared to defend you.
To contact our Cleveland attorneys, please call (440) 471-7784.