Pros and Cons of a Plea Bargain

Although plea bargaining is often criticized, more than 90 percent of criminal convictions come from negotiated pleas. Therefore, less than 10 percent of criminal cases actually go to trial. So, what are the incentives behind plea bargaining? Turns out, it’s quite complicated and it does not simply rely on one’s guilt or innocence. Below is a sampling of the various points of view among different players within the criminal justice system with respect to plea bargaining, looking at the pros and cons of such an arrangement.

For judges, the key incentive for accepting a plea bargain is to alleviate the need to schedule and hold a trial on an already overcrowded docket. Judges are also aware of prison overcrowding and may be receptive to the “processing out” of offenders who are not likely to do much jail time anyway. Generally speaking, plea bargains help create more judicial economy and conservation of limited resources.

The downside to this incentive, however, is the tendency for lower income defendants who believe they are innocent to accept a plea deal because they lack the funds for a robust defense.

For prosecutors, a lightened caseload is equally attractive. But more importantly, plea bargaining assures a conviction, even if it is for a lesser charge or crime. No matter how strong the evidence may be, no case is a foregone conclusion. Prosecutors often wage long and expensive trials but lose, as happened in the infamous O. J. Simpson murder trial.

Moreover, prosecutors may use plea bargaining to further their case against a co-defendant. They may accept a plea bargain arrangement from one defendant in return for damaging testimony against another. This way, they are assured of at least one conviction (albeit on a lesser charge) plus enhanced chances of winning a conviction against the second defendant. For example, a low-level criminal may have information that could help prosecutors in their case against a criminal kingpin. But since the incentive for the first defendant is to get a better deal, the reliability of this information sometimes is questionable.

For a defendant in a criminal case, plea bargaining provides the opportunity for a lighter sentence on a less severe charge, and to have fewer (or less serious) offenses listed on a criminal record. If they are represented by private counsel, defendants also save the monetary costs of a lengthy trial by accepting a plea bargain. Therein lies the potential problem with accepting such a deal: The defendant, even if not actually guilty of the crime, will sometimes take the lighter sentence instead of asserting their constitutional right to a fair trial because they cannot afford an “top-shelf” legal defense.

The decision whether to accept a plea bargain is not an easy one and will depend on the specific facts of your case, your financial standing, your criminal history, and other factors. It also depends on what is being offered. If you’re a licensed professional and your license may be revoked after a felony conviction, pleading out for a misdemeanor charge may guarantee your ability to maintain that license and your livelihood.

While pleading guilty to a crime you know you didn’t commit can be quite distasteful, sometimes it’s best to be pragmatic and listen to your attorney’s assessment of your chances at trial. Ultimately, it’s a decision you have to make on your own.

If you or a loved one is in a bind as a result of a criminal charge, immediately contact a Seattle Criminal Attorney. A Criminal lawyer is not going to judge you, and understands that everyone makes mistakes. Hiring a Seattle Criminal Lawyer to help can – at a minimum – reduce penalties, and can help direct people on how to best deal with their criminal charge, and many times even get them dismissed. So it should go without saying that someone cited for a misdemeanor or felony should hire a qualified Seattle Criminal Lawyer as soon as possible. Criminal charges can cause havoc on a person’s personal and professional life. Anyone charged with a crime in Washington State should immediately seek the assistance of a seasoned Seattle Criminal Lawyer.

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Child Pornography

Federal and state laws make it a crime to produce, possess, distribute, or sell pornographic materials that exploit or portray a minor under the age of 18.  Increasingly, child pornography laws are being utilized to punish use of computer technology and the Internet to obtain, share, and distribute pornographic material involving children, including images and films.

Federal laws addressing child pornography are:

18 U.S.C. § 2251- Sexual Exploitation of Children

(Production of child pornography)

18 U.S.C. § 2251A- Selling and Buying of Children

18 U.S.C. § 2252- Certain activities relating to material involving the sexual exploitation of  minors (Possession, distribution and receipt of child pornography)

18 U.S.C. § 2252A- Certain activities relating to material constituting or containing child pornography

18 U.S.C. § 2260- Production of sexually explicit depictions of a minor for importation into the United States

A violation of federal child pornography laws is a serious crime, and convicted offenders face fines and severe statutory penalties. First-time offenders found guilty of producing child pornography may be sentenced to fines and between 15 to 30 years in prison. Offenders may be prosecuted under federal, state or both jurisdictions for any child pornography offense.

A federal child pornography crime such as possession, manufacturing, distribution, or “access with intent to view,” typically involves the illegal activity crossing state lines such as on the Internet or through the mail. While federal authorities may be involved, state prosecutors may also pursue child pornography prosecutions. Sentences vary by state, but most will require a convicted defendant to register as a sex offender for life.

If a person is convicted of a child pornography-related crime (federal or state), a sentence will likely include mandatory sex offender registration for a certain number of years. Upon conviction, a sex offender will be required to register his or her name, address, and past offenses into a registry for monitoring and tracking offenders.

It is both a federal and state crime for a person to knowingly fail to register or update his or her registration as required by law. You can gain access to the National Sex Offender Public Website (NSOPW) that includes links to the registry for all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Some have argued, rather unsuccessfully, that child pornography should be protected under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. However, courts have consistently found that images of child pornography are not protected speech under the First Amendment and are therefore illegal.

If you come across a website that you believe is depicting child pornography, the first step is to contact your local law enforcement agency. While many of these crimes involve federal law, local authorities will know where to route the investigation.

If you or a loved one is in a bind as a result of a criminal charge, immediately contact a Seattle Criminal Attorney. A Criminal lawyer is not going to judge you, and understands that everyone makes mistakes. Hiring a Seattle Criminal Lawyer to help can – at a minimum – reduce penalties, and can help direct people on how to best deal with their criminal charge, and many times even get them dismissed. So it should go without saying that someone cited for a misdemeanor or felony should hire a qualified Seattle Criminal Lawyer as soon as possible. Criminal charges can cause havoc on a person’s personal and professional life. Anyone charged with a crime in Washington State should immediately seek the assistance of a seasoned Seattle Criminal Lawyer.

Appeals and Writs

Appeals Court judges generally defer to trial court findings, particularly findings of fact as opposed to matters of law. Courts rarely overturn lower court decisions and perfect trials are not guaranteed, although certain safeguards do exist in order to account for errors and oversights. An appellate court will overturn a guilty verdict only if the trial court erred in a way that significantly contributed to the outcome. While most errors are deemed “harmless,” there are, of course, some types of errors that are so serious that they are presumed harmful, such as the use of a coerced confession. Appellate courts rarely interfere with sentences handed down by the lower courts. But in some cases where the law specifies a particular sentence, the appellate court may send the case back for resentencing if the court gets it wrong.

If you have been convicted of a crime and believe the guilty verdict (or even plea) was in error, a defendant has the option to pursue the reversal of that conviction. Reversing a conviction generally happens through appeals or writs.

It is theoretically possible for two completely reasonable juries rule differently on the agreed-upon facts of a case, and thus give different verdicts. And unless something goes wrong at the trial level, you can’t appeal a case simply because you believe the jury reached the wrong verdict. But, having said that, convicted criminals do have the right to challenge the verdict (or appellate court’s ruling) of a case if mistakes were made regarding the facts or matters of law, or if there were issues not readily apparent in the case record itself. These legal remedies are called appeals and writs, respectively.

If one has discovered errors in the way a case was handled, and believe it materially affected a conviction or sentence, they may file an appeal. But the appeal must pinpoint a specific aspect (or aspects) of the case and make a convincing argument that there may have been serious mistakes.

But even a successful appeal won’t always reverse your conviction. Using the example above, prosecutors may still be able to reach a guilty verdict without the illegally obtained evidence. So it’s important to understand that criminal appeals must focus on specifics of the case and not necessarily the outcome.

If all of your opportunities for an appeal have been exhausted or never available to begin with, but you still believe your trial was clouded by some kind of an injustice or mistake, you may look into filing a writ. A writ is an order from a higher court directing a lower court to take some kind of action, typically filed in extraordinary situations where an appeal isn’t an option. So while the trial court may not have erred, per se, a writ may be filed if the verdict was materially based on some other injustice or error beyond its immediate control.

If you or a loved one is in a bind as a result of a criminal charge, immediately contact a Seattle Criminal Attorney. A Criminal lawyer is not going to judge you, and understands that everyone makes mistakes. Hiring a Seattle Criminal Lawyer to help can – at a minimum – reduce penalties, and can help direct people on how to best deal with their criminal charge, and many times even get them dismissed. So it should go without saying that someone cited for a misdemeanor or felony should hire a qualified Seattle Criminal Lawyer as soon as possible. Criminal charges can cause havoc on a person’s personal and professional life. Anyone charged with a crime in Washington State should immediately seek the assistance of a seasoned Seattle Criminal Lawyer.

Case Strategy

Soon after a defendant explains his or her story to a criminal lawyer, they will probably collaborate with each other to come up with a strategy that will work best in court. Generally speaking, this strategy will be based upon the story that the defendant tells his or her attorney, but in most cases will not be exactly the same. Coming up with a defense strategy is not as simple as telling the truth in a way that shows the defendant’s innocence. Instead, it will involve weighing witness credibility, figuring out the reputation between the community and the police as well as various other legal factors.

The very first aspect of preparing a case for trial is to establish a theory. This theory is what the defense will present to a jury, which could explain, justify or prove a defendant’s innocence. Putting this theory forward in court could be very beneficial to the defendant. Prior to a case going to trial, a defense attorney could file a pretrial motions asking for certain evidence to be excluded from trial. This evidence can include certain confessions, statements or actual hard evidence found in a crime scene. In addition, the defense attorney would also probably try to interview any witnesses and/or alleged victims to ascertain information for a trial. This information can be further used during a trial to question credibility and prove to the jury that the prosecutions burden of proof has not been met.

Attorneys are charged to be zealous advocates for their clients and this often means that they will provide coaching to their criminal defendant clients in order to put the best defense theory forward possible. In many situations, defense attorneys will practice mock testimony with the defendant to commit and clearly understand a defense theory to memory; take a defendant to a crime scene in order to stimulate memories and get a defendant to write down their own version of the events, which in many cases varies from the actual police report and discovery provided to the defense.

Additionally, defense attorneys will often explain the theory of the case that the prosecution is using in order to get defendants to include important pieces of fact in their testimony. For example, if a key part of the prosecution’s case is that the defendant was in a certain location at a certain time, the defendant needs to remember to tell a version of events that does not place him at that location at that time. Establishing a criminal defense theory involves manipulating the facts in order to be able to zealously advocate for a client and ensure that he or she has received an effective defense.

It is important for defense attorneys to explain to defendants about various pieces of information about the prosecution’s case so that the defendant knows what kinds of evidence they need to produce.

Another reason that defendants should tell their defense attorneys the complete truth is that it could lead to a lesser charge. If, for example, a defendant is charged with armed robbery, and the defendant tells his attorney that, yes, he did rob the store, but not with any weapon, this could reduce the charge to simple robbery, a much less serious crime in terms of potential jail time as opposed to a robbery with a deadly weapon.

If you or a loved one is in a bind as a result of a criminal charge, immediately contact a Seattle Criminal Attorney. A Criminal lawyer is not going to judge you, and understands that everyone makes mistakes. Hiring a Seattle Criminal Lawyer to help can – at a minimum – reduce penalties, and can help direct people on how to best deal with their criminal charge, and many times even get them dismissed. So it should go without saying that someone cited for a misdemeanor or felony should hire a qualified Seattle Criminal Lawyer as soon as possible. Criminal charges can cause havoc on a person’s personal and professional life. Anyone charged with a crime in Washington State should immediately seek the assistance of a seasoned Seattle Criminal Lawyer.