Counsel’s experience is key in pleas and sentencing mitigation

Psychology and law professors presenting students with a difficult plea agreement choice in a recent study say that the outcome of the exercise demonstrates “plea bargaining’s innocence problem” and points to the need for sentencing mitigation reform.

Tangentially, the study also clearly underscores this important consideration for any criminal suspect charged with a federal crime or state offense and seeking to mitigate the outcome through the plea process: Get a proven criminal defense attorney with strong knowledge of sentencing guidelines, departures and mitigation who knows how to smartly and aggressively advocate and promote a suspect’s best interests.

Admittedly, the legal system is far from perfect. In fact, the study researchers who evaluated the responses of students in a hypothetical exercise say that the hard choices many of them made despite being innocent indicate that “it is time for the U.S. Supreme Court to reevaluate the constitutionality of the institution [plea bargaining].”

Until and unless that is done, however, the simple fact is that current legal reality dictates that many criminal charges are ultimately — routinely — resolved through plea and sentencing. The courts are crowded and busy places, and that environment encourages candid discussions about charges, evidence, relevant law, a jury’s predispositions and the likelihood of conviction if a case goes to trial.

Sometimes a plea agreement stands as the best possible outcome for a person charged with a crime. Sometimes a plea helps a person to avoid a trial, a likely prison term and other adverse consequences.

An attorney who is candid and makes the right decisions about a case can often mitigate the outcome in a manner that truly promotes a person’s legal interests to the fullest degree and achieves the best possible result.

Source: KPPC, “Researchers say plea bargains actually send innocent defendants to jail,” Rina Palta, June 13, 2012