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Don’t defense lawyers just push people to take deals
because it’s easier for the lawyers?
Many defendants have the perception that their lawyers
(especially those paid for by the government) just want to get them to plead
guilty to make life easier for the lawyers. Often, before the first meeting
with the client, the defense lawyer will have seen the police report, spoken
with the D.A., and possibly even agreed upon a tentative plea bargain. In one
study from years back, defendants reported most often hearing, as the first
words their lawyers spoke, “I can get you … if you plead guilty.” (See American
Criminal Justice: The Defendant’s Perspective, by Jonathan D. Casper.) Many
defendants today echo this sentiment, and some feel that their lawyers don’t
even ask for the defendant’s version of the crime.
These perceptions are based on some sound evidence. It
is clearly true that it is less work for a lawyer to plead a client guilty than
to go through a complete trial. Therefore, defendants must make sure their
lawyer is working for their best interests, fairly explaining the pros and cons
of any deals offered and not rushing or pressuring the defendant into accepting
a deal. The final decision on whether or not to plead rests with the clients;
defendants have a right to a trial if they want one.
Example: Tonya Herding was
caught on camera Thursday afternoon stealing clothes, jewelry, and perfume from
Mays Department store. She was arrested at the store, taken to jail, and
booked. Bail was set at $1,500, but Herding had no money to post bail. She told
the police she would need a court-appointed lawyer. She spent the night in jail
and was arraigned the next day. In court, just before her case was called,
Herding met Nancy Herrigan, the P.D. assigned to the case. Herrigan told
Herding she got a good deal and thought Herding should accept it to get out of
jail. If Herding has people she can contact to lend her the money, she could
probably get a bail bond for $150, and for another $150 or so she may be able
to get a second opinion from a private defense lawyer. At a minimum, Herding
should ask Herrigan to explain what the deal is and why it’s a good one. Is it,
for example, the standard deal for such offenses? She may also want to ask what
Herrigan thinks of requesting a continuance and lobbying the D.A. further
before accepting the first offer.
However, the perceptions can also be incorrect. Some
studies show that even though public defenders do engage in more plea
bargaining than private defense lawyers, the deals they work out tend to be
just as good or better for defendants on the whole than the results private
counsel obtain from going to trial. In other words, some private counsel may
push to go to trial when it would be better for the defendant to take the deal.
by: Sara J. Berman
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