It can pay to fight

The majority of people charged with a crime end up taking a plea deal. That means that the prosecutor offers them an opportunity to plea down to a lesser charge or a lesser penalty if they plea guilty and avoid a trial. This can make a lot of sense for some people.

If you are a first time offender and can get a deferred sentence or a diversionary program where you have no permanent record, this can be an enticing offer. If you are not a first time offender but are facing your first felony charge, an opportunity to plea down to a misdemeanor can be a good thing; particularly if you are concerned about getting a job as a convicted felon. Sometimes just staying out of jail is enough to make this worthwhile. Even an innocent person will sometimes take a plea deal to avoid the risk of a lengthy prison sentence if he were to lose at trial.

On the other hand, there are times where people should think long and hard about the consequences of just “pleading out.” For example, if the state’s case isn’t very strong, you may very well get a jury to return a not guilty verdict. It can and does happen. Also, occasionally the prosecutor will make a better offer nearer a trial or may even dismiss the case outright. Having the stomach to hang in there is difficult but can be worth it.

Also, because Michigan tends to punish repeat offenders more severely, avoiding any kind of a record can be to one’s long-term advantage. No one thinks that she will get in trouble again, but if she does, having a clean slate the second time around can be a large bargaining chip. Michigan has a number or crimes that become an automatic felony the third time through. Domestic violence, retail fraud, and drunk driving are three common ones.

Those long ago guilty pleas can come back to bite you later on. Think long and hard about the merits of the state’s case before accepting any plea offer.

Voluntary Dismissals

Lately, a large percentage of prospective criminal clients have been calling in and asking if we can get their case dismissed. They seem dismayed when I tell them the truth which is: “maybe, but don’t count on it.”

I am not sure why many defendants are suddenly thinking that the prosecutor’s office will just walk away from a case. Perhaps they feel that the prosecutor will “see the light” and just give up. While that does occasionally happen, it is fairly rare. And when it does happen, it usually happens right before the trial begins, as in the day before or the day of.

Even if the facts are weak, many prosecutors will hold out and see if the defendant pleads guilty to something. Many people cave into the pressure and just want to get it over with. The best bet if you are innocent is prepare a vigorous defense and send the message that you are not going down without a fight. Then, and only then, they may decide to save themselves the trouble and their office the money and voluntarily dismiss the case.

But then again, don’t count on it.

Ryan Maesen
Grand Rapids Criminal Attorney