Plea deals are helpful in some situations when facing criminal charges in Pennsylvania. However, you may fair better by challenging the prosecutor’s case as it progresses or heading to a jury trial. Always discuss your legal options with a criminal defense attorney if you are considering a plea deal as a potential outcome.
In This Article
Our Philadelphia criminal defense lawyers at Shuttleworth Law share what a plea deal is in Pennsylvania, the advantages and disadvantages of accepting one, evaluating a first plea deal offer, and where you can turn if you need advice. We wrote this article for people facing charges in PA and considering how a plea deal may affect their rights.
What Is a Plea Deal in Pennsylvania?
A plea deal is a compromise between the person facing charges and prosecutors. In general, it allows you to plead guilty on lesser charges or for a lesser sentence. As such, you will not face a jury trial. However, you should always discuss the advantages and disadvantages of a plea deal with an attorney before deciding.
Under 234 Pa. Code Rule 590, the following laws apply to plea deals in Pennsylvania:
- All pleas made and accepted should happen in court
- You can plead not guilty, guilty, or if the judge allows it, nolo contendere
- The judge has full authority to refuse your plea agreement
- The judge must ensure that you understand you understand the terms of your plea agreement
When negotiating a plea agreement, the prosecutor and your defense counsel will analyze and discuss your case. Factors they discuss include the nature of the offense and whether you have past convictions. The prosecutor will eventually provide an initial offer, which your attorney will present and discuss with you.
What Are the Advantages of Taking a Plea Deal?
There are some advantages to a plea deal. If you hire a lawyer to represent your case, you may find that going to trial is the only option to clear your name. However, by getting legal advice from an experienced law firm, you will at least have reassurance knowing you made the best decision for yourself and based on the facts when it is time. Invariably, the decision on whether to take a plea deal requires measuiring risk.
A few advantages of accepting a plea deal in Pennsylvania include:
Advantage 1. Lesser Penalties
People might accept a plea bargain if prosecutors propose a shorter term than the sentencing guidelines require. This situation can result in a much shorter jail sentence than if convicted at trial. You could also receive probation or community service, depending on the nature of the offense and the terms of the plea agreement.
Advantage 2. Retain Your Freedom
Commonwealth prosecutors may offer to reduce your charges in exchange for a guilty or no contest plea. This offer could allow you to continue working in certain positions and retain your freedom. Reducing the number of criminal charge counts is another common tactic prosecutors use during plea negotiations.
Advantage 3. Avoids Public Scrutiny
A jury trial may bring you into the public eye. The facts revealed during the trial could cause humiliation and embarrassment in some situations. A plea agreement may work well for people in this position.
Related Article: What Is a Formal Arraignment in Pennsylvania?
What Are the Disadvantages of Taking a Plea Deal?
There are also significant disadvantages to accepting a plea deal in Pennsylvania. They prevent you from having your case heard and decided by a jury. Consequently, an innocent person may serve time for a crime they did not commit by accepting a plea deal.
Below, we have outlined a few disadvantages of accepting a plea deal:
Disadvantage 1. An Admission of Guilt
The negotiation of a plea agreement is independent of whether you are innocent or guilty. Many innocent individuals have accepted plea bargains to avoid lengthy prison sentences. Since criminal records are public, you cannot later retract your guilty admission by telling future employers that you did not commit the crime, resulting in a lifetime of regret.
Disadvantage 2. Criminal Record
When a matter goes to trial, you at least have the option of being acquitted and avoiding a criminal record. However, accepting a plea agreement means that you will face a conviction for a crime. Depending on the nature of your offense, this information could remain on your record forever without the prospect of an expungement.
Disadvantage 3. No Guarantees
Even when a prosecutor agrees to a plea bargain, the court is not required to accept the conditions. The judge must approve the final agreement before you are in the clear. It is possible to submit a plea and have it rejected.
It is challenging to determine if a plea agreement is right for you, which is why many seek legal advice. Whether you accept a plea deal or go to trial, the choice is yours to make. Ensure you work with an experienced and knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer to explain your options and help you execute a courtroom strategy.
Related Article: What Happens at a Preliminary Hearing in PA?
Is the First Plea Deal the Best?
The first plea deal is not usually the best offer. However, your case could be different, but you should always discuss a first plea deal with a criminal defense attorney first before accepting one.
As your case progresses, the Commonwealth will examine the evidence more closely, giving them more information about the potential outcome. This situation can dramatically change the terms of a plea agreement.
Related Article: How to Get a Criminal Record Expungement in Pennsylvania
Where to Get Legal Advice After an Arrest in Pennsylvania
Always speak with a criminal defense lawyer in Pennsylvania when navigating the legal system after an arrest. The idea is to protect your case from the outset and follow your lawyer’s legal advice. This strategy ensures that you understand your decisions and fully evaluate whether a plea agreement or going to a jury trial is suitable for your situation.
Call Shuttleworth Law for My Free Case Evaluation
You deserve answers after an arrest. Call the criminal defense lawyers at Shuttleworth Law for your Free Case Evaluation at (215) 774-1371 or message us here. Let us know if you cannot travel to our Philadelphia office, and we can schedule a secure video conference with you instead.