One of the toughest decisions defendants in criminal cases have to make is whether or not to go to trial on their case. Some people have no choice. They have been charged with a crime where there is a minimum mandatory sentence as with drug trafficking cases and the district attorney refuses to break the case down. Or, perhaps the case is one that cannot be continued without a finding and a guilty finding will result in a loss of employment or the loss of a professional license. In those instances the decision is easy. Go to trial and hope for an acquittal. Most of the time however the decision is not that easy and the defendant has to weigh the pros and cons of going to trial. When my clients consult with me about this decision the one question they always ask “will my sentence by worse if I go to trial and lose?”.
You Are Not Supposed to be Penalized For Exercising Your Constitutional Right to Trial
Publicly most judges will tell you that they never punish someone more for going to trial and losing than they would had the defendant chose to plead guilty. Privately however most judges will acknowledge otherwise. Usually you will know what your sentence will be if you plead guilty before you actually tender your change of plea. The prosecutor and your lawyer will get together and agree to a disposition. If they cannot an experienced lawyer will be able to tell you with some certainty what a particular judge will do after a guilty. And, in Massachusetts there is a safety valve to that process in the district courts. Judges will not exceed the defense lawyer’s recommendation without first permitting you to withdraw your plea.
The game changes if you decide to go to trial. Many judges view your exercise of your constitutional right to trial a “waste of the court’s time” if in their view you were offered a favorable plea deal. In the experience of most criminal defense lawyers sentences are much more severe after trial than upon a change of plea. Seasoned criminal defense lawyers who lose a trial will remind the judge that “x” was offered before trial and there is no reason to exceed “x” after a guilty verdict. Fair judges will adhere to their principles and impose the sentence that was offered before trial. Many however will not.
How Do I Decide Whether or Not to go to Trial?
If you hired the right lawyer that decision can be an informed one. Most lawyers know what judges do what in particular situations. Your lawyer can tell you what to expect in the event you lose your case based on his experience with that judge and that judge’s reputation. Some judges view trials as an affront when you were offered a good deal on a plea. Others don’t want to sit on a trial. They would rather clear their courtroom of all cases and end their day earlier. Believe it or not some judges are intimidated by trials. They are unfamiliar with the law or uncomfortable making decisions in open court before a jury. These judges usually do everything they can to get rid of the case prior to trial. So, if you make them go to trial, and you lose, you might pay the price.
Our lawyers are familiar with the judges in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and their practices. If you want help making this decision call Attorney Stephen Neyman now at 617-263-6800. We know that we can help you.