Even if you believe in your own innocence, facing a criminal charge can be a stressful experience. You may worry about what evidence the state has against you or potentially fear how going through a trial might affect your reputation or career.
If a prosecutor offers a plea bargain, especially if they reduce the charge, you might want to leap at the chance to avoid jail time or the worst possible penalties for your original charge. A plea bargain may seem beneficial initially, but innocent people that accept plea bargains may not fully understand the impact of their decision until well after court proceedings end.
The reduced charge isn’t as beneficial as you think
If prosecutors initially charged you with a felony but then offer you a plea to a similar misdemeanor charge, it may seem like a no-brainer to accept that offer rather than take your chances at trial. However, even a misdemeanor criminal record can haunt you for years.
More importantly, future employers who perform background checks may very well presume that you were guilty of the felony offense in your initial charges because you accepted the plea bargain. In other words, you may face many of the same restrictions and hurdles that convicted felons do despite only having a misdemeanor charge on your record.
Pleading guilty can mean losing your right to expunge a record
For someone with only one criminal blemish on their record, it is sometimes possible to have the state seal or expunge that record. However, if you plead guilty, that may prevent you from sealing the record of your arrest in the future.
Additionally, unless the terms of the plea deal offer highly specific details regarding the penalties you face, accepting a plea deal because you assume it will help you avoid jail or other consequences can be a big mistake. If the judge still has the right to determine how to penalize you, you could end up serving jail time.
Before you accept a plea or even begin negotiating with prosecutors, it is likely in your best interest to talk about your situation with a criminal defense attorney.