If you’ve been hit with a drug crime charge, you’re no doubt apprehensive about what comes next. You know the sentence you could face if convicted is potentially life-altering. The prospect of a court trial can also be frightening.
Then, the prosecution offers a plea deal: Admit your guilt in exchange for reduced charges. Complete your lessened sentence. It all seems to go away.
The reality is that 90-95% of state and federal criminal cases, including those for drug offenses, never go to trial. Clearly, if that many defendants are accepting plea deals, there has to be something to it.
So should you take the offer? Maybe.
Let’s take a look at how plea bargaining works, and some of the pros and cons of accepting one for Minnesota drug crime charges.
How Plea Bargains Work in Minnesota
Plea bargaining can take place any time after you’ve been charged. Typically, the prosecutor will discuss the potential deal with your defense attorney over the phone or email, and your attorney will convey the offer to you.
In some cases, plea bargains can be offered the morning of your trial, or even mid-trial. However, in most cases, the prosecution approaches the defendant’s attorney prior to the trial.
If you come to an agreement with the prosecution and choose to accept the plea bargain, you enter a guilty plea at the next court date. Sometimes it’s possible for you to enter a “no contest” plea, which will result in the same sentencing as a guilty plea.
A judge must approve the plea bargain, and the majority of judges do approve any plea bargain that’s reasonable enough. The court then informs you of the rights you’re giving up by waiving a trial, and the judge will explain the consequences of the plea. Sentencing may happen during this hearing, or later after a probation department report is issued.
So then, should you take the offer when it’s handed down to you?
Should You Take a Plea Deal for Your Minnesota Drug Charge?
As long as you are of sound mind and body, legally, no one — not even your attorney — is allowed to make this decision for you. There are certainly advantages of accepting a plea deal, and your attorney will review those with you. Some of the most common pros to a guilty plea are:
- The case will not go to trial, saving resources such as legal fees, court costs and missed work during the trial
- A plea deal offers reduced charges and sentencing compared to what you could receive if you’re convicted at trial
- If you’re in jail awaiting trial and can’t afford bail, a plea bargain will get you out as quickly as possible
- A plea bargain can lessen collateral consequences like prohibited firearm possession for a felony conviction, should your charge be reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor
However, there are also some inherent cons that come with every plea deal, and a good attorney will share these with you too. Here are a few you can expect to hear:
- You’re signing away your right to a trial, where you could potentially be acquitted and cleared of all charges
- Some plea deals have additional conditions, for example agreeing to testify as a witness in a related trial
- Even if you are convicted at trial, in most cases you won’t receive the maximum penalties possible for the offense in question, although you will be subject to drug crime mandatory minimums
Ultimately, to deny or accept a plea deal is up to you. Your defense attorney will help you to evaluate the specifics of your case and of the plea deal and make sure that you understand what you’re agreeing to before you sign the dotted line.
We recommend weighing all factors surrounding your case and the offered deal. Determine whether you feel you have the resources to take the case to trial. Your decision should also factor what kind of evidence the prosecution has mounted against you.
About the Author:
Christopher Keyser is a Minneapolis-based criminal and DWI defense attorney known for fighting aggressively for his clients and utilizing innovative tactics to get the most positive results. He has been featured in numerous media outlets due to the breadth and depth of his knowledge and recognized as a Minnesota Super Lawyers Rising Star (2014–2015), a Top 100 Trial Lawyer (2013–2015), and a Top 40 Under 40 Attorney (2013–2015).