Don’t defense lawyers just push people to take deals because it’s easier for the lawyers?

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Question:

Don’t defense lawyers just push people to take deals because it’s easier for the lawyers?

Answer:

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.

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