“Time served” sounds great. Why not take the deal right away?

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Question:

I've been offered "time served," which means I can go home right away. Any reason not to agree?

Answer:

Time that defendants spend in jail before they are convicted (called pretrial detention) may be credited toward the total length of the sentence. This is called time served. A defendant unable to make bail may spend time in jail before a plea bargain or a trial takes place—sometimes days, sometimes months, and in very rare instances, years. It is not unusual in minor first-time offenses for a plea bargain to be struck whereby the defendant’s total punishment is time served plus probation.

While time served sounds terrific and most offenders jump at the chance to be let out of jail right away, this option is by no means a “get out of jail free” card. There are serious consequences that a defendant should not take lightly:

Criminal record. The offender will still have a criminal record; time served doesn’t erase the conviction.

Can you handle probation? Time served is almost always given in conjunction with probation and sometimes a fine, community service, or both. Probation may have onerous conditions attached to it. Defendants who violate even one of the probation conditions may be returned immediately to jail. Because of this, some defendants (especially those who have been around the block and know that they're not going to reform immediately) may wisely choose to avoid the fine or probation conditions and serve the entire jail time outright, especially if the charge is relatively minor and the local jail is routinely releasing defendants early.

by: Janet Portman

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