Your criminal charges have been pending for a little while now, so you naturally regard the prosecutor’s offer of a plea deal with equal parts relief and suspicion. On one hand, a plea deal could make your life a lot easier. On the other, you’re curious why the prosecutor is coming forward with this sudden offer. Is their case weak? Did an alleged witness recant? Would you have a great chance at trial?

Maybe. More likely, however, you’re just seeing the usual mechanics of the justice system in play. Around 94% of all state-level criminal convictions are resolved through plea deals. At the federal level, it’s 97%. Why so many? Because the advantages generally outweigh the drawbacks — at least, for prosecutors.

For a prosecutor, your plea deal accomplishes several things:

  • It moves your case off their desk.
  • It’s less expensive than a trial for the state.
  • It helps ease the time burden on the court caused by a trial.
  • It counts as a “win” in their average rate of convictions.

Plea deals, naturally, have some benefits for defendants as well. Otherwise, nobody would take one. They often allow for reduced charges. You get a definitive, agreed-upon outcome and an end to your case (which can, in turn, drastically reduce the anxiety you’re feeling about the future). Your sentence may be lighter, too.

But the disadvantages of a plea deal are considerable. Your criminal record won’t really make a distinction between “plea” and “conviction,” and you’ll be treated accordingly every time you apply for housing, a job or anything else.

Does this mean that you shouldn’t even consider a plea? No. A plea deal might very well be the best thing for your situation. However, you should never make the decision to accept a plea deal without first consulting with a defense attorney.