If you grew up watching U.S. detective shows, it is easy to misunderstand how the justice system works. You might think that if the police charge you with a crime, you will go to trial to fight the charges. Yet, recent research shows that is not how it works.
A 2018 report by the Pew Research Center found that 98% of people facing federal charges did not go to trial. 8% got their cases dismissed, the other 90% waived their right to trial and pleaded guilty to the charges. Does that mean 90% were guilty? Unlikely. People decline a trial because they figure it better to lose small than risk losing big.
The research found that state charges result in even fewer jury trials. In California, only 1.25% of defendants received a jury trial. Most state and federal charges end in plea deals.
How do plea deals work?
The prosecution team offers you a deal. Plead guilty to a specific charge in exchange for a more lenient sentence. If you refuse, they threaten a more severe sentence or threaten you with additional charges.
Plea deals can work to a defendant’s advantage, yet they often do not. You might think you can handle a few months in jail. Yet, if you are not a U.S. citizen pleading guilty could terminate your hopes of ever becoming one. By accepting a plea deal, you agree to a criminal record.
If you are in the U.S. without documentation, immigration authorities may use a criminal conviction as evidence to deport you. If you apply for citizenship, they may use a criminal record as a reason to turn you down. It makes it even more important to look at defense options if accused of a crime.