The Bill of Rights and numerous other federal and New York rules protect those accused of criminal activity. There is a presumption of innocence that applies to anyone facing criminal charges, and they have the right to a trial. During a criminal trial, a defendant has the right to representation and should have access to any of the evidence that the prosecution intends to present. They also have the right to choose between having a judge rule on their case and having a trial overseen by a jury of their peers, at least in felony cases.
A trial helps ensure that someone accused of a crime has an opportunity to present their side of the situation and counter the evidence that the state intends to present connecting them to criminal activity. However, when one looks at how people respond to criminal charges in New York and across the United States, it becomes very obvious that trials are now a rarity. Why do so many criminal defendants forgo their right to take their case to trial?
Prosecutors tend to file the most severe charges possible
It has become common practice in New York and elsewhere for prosecutors to evaluate the evidence that law enforcement agencies collect and then bring the most severe charges possible given the circumstances. What could be a misdemeanor might end up pursued as a felony. Additionally, incidents that could result in a simple charge might result in multiple charges against an individual.
The worst-case scenario when someone goes to trial is that the courts would convict them of the most severe charge or of all of the charges and potentially impose the worst possible penalties. Those hoping to minimize certain consequences often expect more lenient sentencing if they accept a plea deal. Frequently, pleas will involve agreeing to slightly reduced charges, which can limit the possible penalties. However, there is no guarantee that a judge will be lenient when sentencing someone who pleads guilty. They still have the option of sentencing someone to the maximum penalty allowed by state statutes.
Although almost everyone accused of a crime pleads guilty, making use of the right to a trial is often the best way for someone to avoid specific penalties and eliminate the lifelong challenges that come with having a criminal record. Seeking legal guidance is, therefore, important before committing to a plea deal and/or to pleading guilty.