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Do I need a lawyer to get
a good deal? Do lawyers get better plea bargains?
Most of the time, the answer is
“yes.” To get a good deal, a defense lawyer may have to lobby the district
attorney. And just as a child lobbying a parent for a later bedtime must curry
favor, so too must defense lawyers; it’s critical to make sure at least that
they don’t irritate the D.A. in charge. (See I’ve heard that prosecutors offer standard deals for certain charges. Should I still hire a lawyer?)
Some suggest, among various other strategies,
approaching the D.A. very early on, before any affirmative steps are taken to
further the case, and trying to appeal to the D.A.’s sense of justice and
fairness. Once prosecutors start working a case, they may become more
entrenched in their position. It may then become more difficult to persuade
them to drop or reduce certain charges. Further, when lobbying the D.A., wise
defense attorneys often start at the bottom of the ladder in the prosecutor’s
office. If a less experienced D.A. says no, a defense lawyer can approach a
supervisor. But once the supervising lawyer says no, the defense may be out of
These tactics suggest how cautiously defense lawyers
proceed with plea negotiations. And, if defense lawyers have to be careful
about how they negotiate a deal, self-represented defendants must be even more
First, there are traps for the unwary pro per. For
instance, though technically there are rules of evidence that prevent the use
of information discussed in the course of a plea bargain from being used in
trial (see Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(e)(6)), the prosecution may
find ways around this. The prosecution may, for instance, look for independent
evidence that they find from leads given away by the defendant during these
Second, defense lawyers may be able to negotiate more
effectively because they may have an emotional distance from the case that the
Third, it is quite
likely that the prosecutor will have a bias against defendants representing
themselves—or at least a preference for working with fellow lawyers—and will
not offer the defendant the same deal he would give a defense lawyer. In one
study, prosecutors flatly admitted personal prejudice against unrepresented
defendants. (See “Plea Bargaining: Critical Issues and Common Practices,” U.S.
Department of Justice, July 1985 at 43.) In misdemeanor cases in Texas, the
study reported, unrepresented defendants discuss their cases directly with the
prosecutors, “who generally advise them to plead guilty to avoid being
‘creamed’ if they go to trial and in order to get probation or diversion right
away.” One prosecutor further admitted that in a weak case, “If there is a
defense attorney, I’ll dismiss it … If there is no attorney, I’ll try to get
the defendant to plead guilty.”
by: Paul Bergman
Proof & Defenses in Criminal Cases
Getting a Lawyer for your Criminal Case
Steps in a Criminal Defense Case
Arraignment: Your First Court Appearance
Plea Bargains (Deals) in a Criminal Case
Legal Elements of Common Crimes
Expungement & Criminal Records
Should I just plead guilty and avoid a trial?
Is the public defender a real lawyer?
Can I change defense lawyers after I've hired one?
How long after arrest do I find out what the charges are?
Does it matter whether a suspect is given the Miranda warning?
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