The phrases “innocent until proven guilty” and “right to trial” are fundamental to being American. But in a court of law, there is more to read between the lines.

What actually happens when you go to trial?

While criminal defendants could be inclined to prove their innocence and seek justice, there is a substantial risk when having a jury decide their fate. Sometimes, an innocent person pleading guilty can be the best course of action. ENLawyers explain what both going to trial and pleading guilty may mean.

Pleading Guilty

When a criminal defendant pleads guilty, he or she could be issued fines or jail time, and will be left with a criminal record. However, even if one did not commit the crime of which they are accused, pleading guilty can have a less negative effects than going to trial.

When entering a guilty plea, a case is often resolved more expeditiously, as it could take over a year to get a case to a jury. Trials can be invasive and uncertain, as no amount of preparation can guarantee a jury’s final decision. But if offered the option of a plea bargain, a good defense attorney will often negotiate a lighter sentence or reduced charges.  It could result in a dismissal, a stet, or a PBJ, all of which may be expunged (cleared) from a defendant’s record down the road.

For some defendants, having assurance of a definite sentence while not facing the risk of a trial may be worth the possibility of consequences.

Going to Trial

Depending on the situation, having your case in the hands of an unpredictable jury may be worth the risk. Although awaiting trial can be nerve wracking, criminal defendants have more time to work with their attorneys, collect evidence and build a strong defense. In some cases, the consequences of plea deal or of entering a plea may equate to that of the original charges—so pleading guilty may cause as much damage as an unsuccessful trial.

Going to trial is a long and tedious process, but there is no truer example of justice than an innocent person getting acquitted for a crime that they did not commit. When pleading guilty, a judge may impose a harsher sentence than what a prosecutor and the criminal defense lawyer negotiate. But in the case of an acquittal, a defendant faces no fines or jail time, and would not have the charge on their criminal record.

ENLaywers’ Bottom Line

There are risks and benefits to both pleading guilty and going to trial. If you find yourself in such a situation, it is important to discuss your options with an experienced criminal lawyer. To determine the best course of action for your specific case, consult with the attorneys at the Law Offices of Eldridge and Nachtman today.