If you face criminal charges in Hawaii, you may wonder whether you should take a plea deal or go to trial. A plea deal is an agreement between a defendant and a prosecutor, win which the defendant pleads guilty to a lesser charge for a reduced sentence in exchange for the dismissal or reduction of other charges. But, whether you should take the plea deal is complicated.
The pros of taking a plea deal
Taking a plea deal can have both advantages and disadvantages. Regardless of the strength of your case, no trial is guaranteed, and trials are expensive and time intensive. A plea deal can avoid this uncertainty and expense.
The lessened charges (or dropped charges in exchange for testimony or evidence) may allow you to avoid collateral consequences of a more severe conviction. These include losing your professional license, voting rights, firearm rights, immigration status, public benefits, etc.
The cons of taking a plea deal
Nonetheless, a plea deal still usually includes pleading guilty to something. This means that you will incur a negative impact on your reputation, employment opportunities, education prospects, personal relationships, etc. You also cannot have jury trial, confront witnesses, examine evidence, present your own evidence or appeal your guilty plea. This can be especially problematic if new evidence emerges that could exonerate you.
And, since your plea deal must be accepted by a judge, you may actually receive a harsher sentence than expected. The judge may consider factors that are not part of the plea deal, such as your criminal history, victim impact statements, sentencing guidelines, etc.
How to make an informed decision
As you can see, taking a plea deal requires careful consideration and balancing the potential consequences of conviction against the benefits and consequences of the plea deal.
Specifically, review the evidence. Is it strong, reliable and admissible?
Review the charges. What are the potential penalties?
Review the plea deal and compare it to those potential penalties.
Review your personal goals and preferences. Ask yourself what matters most to you in resolving your case. Is your primary goal to avoid jail time? Do you want to maintain your family ties or preserve your future opportunities?
Review your alternatives to taking a plea deal. Ask yourself if there are any other ways to resolve your case favorably. This can be pre-trial deals and motions, like seeking a dismissal. It can also include diversion programs, deferred prosecution agreements or acquittal at trial. The key takeaway is that this is a major decision that will have a lasting effect on your life.