In Virginia, most criminal cases are resolved by the defendant pleading guilty to the crime they are charged with committing or a lesser offense. However, this does not mean that this is the best option for you if you have been arrested.
You need to weigh the pros and cons of entering a guilty plea versus taking your case to a jury trial. This is one of the most important decisions you will make in your case. It is crucial to understand all of your options.
Benefits and Drawbacks of Pleading Guilty
It will be your decision whether to plead guilty or go to trial. Even if you know you have been falsely accused of committing a crime, you will need to consider whether it is in your best interests to enter a guilty plea. Here are some of the benefits of pleading guilty that you need to know:
- Quicker resolution. One of the benefits of entering a guilty plea is that your case will be resolved much quicker. It could take months or longer before it is scheduled for a jury trial.
- Cost. The cost of hiring a lawyer will be less if you decide to plead guilty. The attorney fees, expert witness fees, and other costs can be very expensive if you take your case to a jury trial.
- Plea bargain. You may be able to enter into a favorable plea agreement with the prosecutor if you agree to plead guilty. They may drop the charges to a less serious offense or agree to reduce your sentence. This can be extremely beneficial, especially if you face a jail or prison sentence.
- Certainty. You can never know what will happen if you take your case to a jury trial—even if you have a strong defense or know you are innocent. If you agree to plead guilty, you will have a certain outcome and have a good sense of how the judge would sentence you.
Some of the cons of pleading guilty include:
- Innocence. If you have been falsely accused of a crime, it can feel horribly unjust to plead guilty to any crime, even a minor misdemeanor.
- Conviction. You will be convicted of committing the crime when you plead guilty. You will be sentenced to some punishment by the judge. Depending on the offense, there could be a mandatory prison sentence.
- Criminal record. You will also have a permanent criminal record if you enter a guilty plea. This can affect your ability to obtain employment, education, housing, and more.
Pros and Cons of Going to Trial
There are also benefits and disadvantages of having your case decided at a jury trial. Some of the pros include:
- More time. It will be months or longer before your criminal case is scheduled for a trial. This will give you more time to develop a strong defense strategy. In addition, you could spend more time with your family, which can be an important factor if you are facing a lengthy prison sentence.
- Justice. If you are innocent, taking your case to trial and being found not guilty can give you a strong sense of justice and clear your name.
- Defenses. You could have strong defenses to the charges you face—even if you know you are guilty. If your constitutional rights were violated or you have grounds to suppress evidence against you, the prosecutor’s case could be significantly weakened. They could be forced to dismiss the charges, or you may be found not guilty at a trial.
There are also important cons to taking a case to a jury trial. This is true even if you have been falsely accused of a crime. They include:
- Costs. It will be much more expensive for you to pay an experienced criminal defense lawyer to try your case.
- Uncertainty. Juries can be very unpredictable. Even if you have a solid defense that should result in a not guilty verdict, there is no guarantee that this will be the outcome in your case.
- Punishment. You may receive a harsher punishment from the judge at sentencing if you take your case to trial.
How to Decide Whether to Plead Guilty or Go to Trial
The best way to decide whether you should plead guilty or go to trial is to retain a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney immediately after your arrest. They will conduct a thorough investigation into the facts and evidence in your case and develop strong defenses to fight the charges you face. They will weigh the pros and cons with you and may be able to obtain a better plea bargain for you if you decide to plead guilty. To learn how our skilled legal team can help you, call our Manassas office or fill out our online form to schedule a free consultation today.