Is a criminal trial the only way to fight one's charges?

Though proving one's innocence or fighting one's case in a court of law sounds appealing on paper, the reality is that there are a number of factors outside of the control of the accused that affect the outcome of the criminal trial. The charges the prosecutor presses are one of those factors. If convicted, the judge would have to sentence the defendant according to the charges. Prosecutors press criminal charges based on a number of reasons, including the evidence against the accused and their criminal history.

Massachusetts residents may be surprised to hear that prosecutors, not judges, may have the biggest impact on the defendant's sentences. Since they determine the charges and can decide whether or not to agree to a plea deal, they have a lot of control in their hands. This, as a result, affects the resulting sentence if the accused is convicted. According to one report, these are some of the reasons there are discrepancies between the sentences for white and black male offenders who are similarly situated. According to data from 2016, black males are given sentences 19.1 percent longer on average than white males.

Though race is not one of the reasons a person may opt to pursue a plea agreement, criminal history may be one. Additionally, a plea agreement would guarantee the outcome of the case and it would be somewhat in the defendant's control, rather than a criminal trial where very little would be in their control. A plea agreement for a lesser sentence or lighter charge could allow the defendant to bounce back from their experience and become a productive part of society again.

There are different ways to combat criminal charges. Criminal trials and plea negotiations are just two of those options. When determining the criminal defense one wants to pursue, it is important to keep realistic expectations in mind and try to get the best possible outcome given the circumstances.

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