A common question we receive from clients who are facing criminal charges is, “Can my charges be reduced?” The short answer is yes, it is possible for charges to be reduced or even dropped. However, it bears some further explanation.
When criminal charges are brought against you, they are brought by the prosecuting attorney, who represents the government. Therefore, the prosecuting attorney may also reduce or drop the charges at his/her discretion, and may choose to do so if a) there is sufficient doubt that the evidence against you will result in conviction, and the prosecution thinks it’s not worth spending government money to find out; or b) if the prosecution sees some other benefit to the government in doing so (for example, to acquire your help in convicting someone else). A good criminal defense attorney won’t wait until the trial to defend you, but will negotiate aggressively with the prosecution during the pre-trial phase for reduction or dismissal of the charges against you. (By the way, a judge can’t reduce or dismiss the actual charges against you, but a judge may dismiss the case if he/she deems at any time that the charges against you are unwarranted.)
WAYS YOUR CHARGES CAN BE REDUCED
There are basically two ways that your attorney can work on getting the charges against you reduced:
- Direct pre-trial negotiations. Even as each side prepares its case for trial, the prosecution and defense remain in regular contact concerning your case. This gives your attorney many opportunities to highlight the elements of your case that create reasonable doubt. The prosecution is most interested in pursuing charges with the strongest possibility of conviction. If this is your first offense, for example, or if there is evidence of your good intentions that might sway a jury in your favor, the prosecutor may be convinced to reduce a felony charge to a misdemeanor because he/she believes there’s a better chance of convicting you in that instance. Also, if multiple charges are brought, your attorney may be able to convince the prosecutor to reduce the number of counts against you. In some cases, a good defense attorney may even be able to get all the charges dropped.
- Plea bargaining. It’s very common for your defense attorney (with your approval) to negotiate a plea bargain with the prosecution and the courts. In this case, you agree to plead guilty to a lesser crime in return for a lighter sentence, or to plead guilty to fewer counts in return for having the other counts dropped. Although this means you will receive some sort of penalty, that penalty is likely to be much more lenient than if you were simply brought to trial and convicted. Prosecutors often like plea bargains because they save the government the time and money that would be required for a jury trial—let alone the risk of losing the case.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
It’s important to understand that no defense attorney can guarantee that charges will be dropped or dismissed, nor should you trust any attorney who makes such a claim. That power lies only with the prosecuting attorney. However, if you hire a defense attorney with good pre-trial negotiation skills (and a track record to prove it), your chances of getting charges reduced goes up considerably. Likewise, if your attorney has a good working relationship with the courts and the prosecutors, your odds are also increased.
Finally, the sooner you involve a good criminal defense attorney in pre-trial negotiations, the more likely it is that your attorney will be able to negotiate for a reduction of your charges. For more information, consult with one of our experienced attorneys at the Federal Criminal Law Center.