If you have been charged with a crime in South Carolina, you need to do everything you can to protect yourself. A conviction can have life-altering consequences—and these consequences can extend far beyond any time you may spend behind bars.
Does this mean that you should fight for a “not guilty” verdict at trial? While this will be the best approach in some cases, it won’t necessarily be the best approach in others. Depending on the circumstances presented, it could be better to negotiate a plea bargain instead.
What Is a Plea Bargain?
A plea bargain is an agreement between a defendant and the prosecutor’s office. The agreement can either relate to the defendant’s charge or the defendant’s sentence. When a plea bargain relates to a defendant’s charge, the agreement is binding. However, when a plea bargain relates to a defendant’s sentence, the agreement is subject to the judge’s approval.
The “plea” aspect of a plea bargain is critically important. When you accept a plea bargain as a defendant in South Carolina, you are pleading guilty to the charge against you. Pleading guilty is a serious matter in its own right, and it can impact your life in various ways even if you are able to avoid fines and jail time as a result of your plea bargain.
What are the Benefits of Plea Bargaining for Defendants?
With this in mind, what are the benefits of accepting a plea bargain? Under the right circumstances, accepting a plea bargain can have several benefits, including:
1. Avoiding the Inherent Uncertainty of Trial
Regardless of the facts of your case, there are no guarantees when you go to trial. Even if you are innocent, the jury could still side with the prosecution. If you accept a plea bargain, your case won’t go to trial. You will have control over the outcome of your case, and you will be able to make an informed decision about what consequences you are willing to accept in light of all of the relevant circumstances at hand.
2. Reducing Your Sentence (and Possibly Avoiding Fines and Jail Time)
Accepting a plea bargain can significantly reduce your sentence. This is true whether you are facing misdemeanor or felony charges. If you negotiate a reduced charge, this could reduce the penalties that are on the table, and it could potentially eliminate any minimum sentencing requirements. If you negotiate a reduced sentence, the terms of your deal will be subject to judicial approval, but judges routinely approve sentencing deals negotiated between prosecutors and defense lawyers.
Negotiating a plea deal could also allow you to avoid sentencing all together. If you are eligible for one of South Carolina’s intervention programs, you may be able to enter into one of these programs as part of your plea bargain. If you complete the program successfully, this could protect you against any long-term consequences.
3. Reducing the Prosecution’s Caseload
Prosecutors in South Carolina carry enormous caseloads. As a result, they are often willing to resolve cases without going to trial. If you are willing to negotiate a plea deal and reduce the prosecution’s case load, doing so could earn you leniency that you wouldn’t necessarily get if you fought your charge in court.
4. Garnering Favor with the Judge
Negotiating a plea bargain can also garner favor with the judge. When evaluating defendants’ sentencing requests, judges often want to see that defendants have accepted responsibility and are showing remorse. If the judge assigned to your case sees that you are already taking steps toward reform, this could help when it comes to seeking a sentence of a fine, probation, time served, conditional discharge, or reduced period of incarceration.
5. Reducing the Costs of Your Case
Finally, negotiating a plea bargain can reduce the costs of your case. Preparing for trial takes time, and going to trial could substantially increase the cost of your defense. As a result, in some cases, accepting a plea bargain in order to reduce a defendant’s out-of-pocket expenses can be worth it.
Of course, you will need to weigh any potential savings against the costs of pleading guilty. If there is a chance that you could avoid these costs by fighting for a “not guilty” verdict at trial, then investing in your defense could ultimately prove to be the less-expensive option.
When Is a Plea Bargain a Good Option?
Taking all of this into account, when is a plea bargain a good option? Ultimately, the key consideration is whether negotiating a plea bargain is likely to result in a better outcome than taking your case to trial.
What charge (or charges) are you currently facing? What range of sentences are you currently facing? If you pursue a plea bargain, what can you reasonably expect from the prosecution? How strong is the evidence against you? What evidence (or lack thereof) can you leverage to your advantage?
These are just some of the questions that should guide your decisions regarding plea bargaining. If the circumstances point toward a plea bargain being your best option, you will need to work closely with your defense lawyer to strategically target a favorable deal.
With all of that said, it is important not to lose sight of something we discussed previously—accepting a plea bargain means pleading guilty to a crime. If you are innocent, then negotiating a plea bargain might not even be an option worth considering. On the other hand, if there is a risk that trial might not go your way, then accepting a deal that provides certainly with relatively minimal consequences could be your best path forward.
Request a Free Consultation with Rock Hill Defense Lawyer Michael L. Brown, Jr.
Deciding whether you should accept a plea bargain requires careful consideration of numerous factors that are unique to your case. If you have questions about seeking a plea bargain in South Carolina criminal court, we encourage you to contact us for more information. To schedule a free initial consultation with Rock Hill defense lawyer Michael L. Brown, Jr., please call 803-328-8822 or request an appointment online today.