Why do some lawyers settle for a plea bargain when they know their client is innocent?

Many different reasons, but here’s a good example of one reason: because there are times when being innocent may not result in the jury believing you are, in fact, innocent.

I had a client (some details of the story are changed out of respect for privacy) who caught his wife in bed with their neighbor. He and the neighbor were friends, and so he was welcome to enter his neighbor’s house without knocking. Somehow, this friend/neighbor must not have figured my client would come to the house without knocking on the day the neighbor and my client’s wife were in bed together, asleep. When my client rounded the corner and entered the bedroom, he screamed in anger and pain, “Heather*, you slut!” The neighbor, who’d been drinking, woke up startled and disoriented, thinking there was an intruder in his house and he charged my client trying to kill him (he didn’t know it was his friend). My client was caught off guard and was so scared he soiled his pants and took a swing at the attacking neighbor, breaking his jaw.

My client, who had never been in trouble with the law a day in his life, was charged with aggravated assault. I believed he was innocent. His wife, who witnessed the whole thing, believed he was innocent. Do you believe I could have gotten the jury to believe that a man who caught his wife in bed with another guy broke the guy’s jaw accidentally and/or in self-defense?

I didn’t either. Or more accurately, I didn’t think the odds were good enough to risk it.

Worse, if my client had been found guilty by the jury, he could have gone to prison for at least 5 years. That’s not just five years, but five years away from his wife (who he still loved and who still wanted to be with him) and their 2-year old daughter. And losing a job he loved and that paid well.

The prosecutor offered him a deal to plead to a lesser charge and to get 30 days in jail. It was a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush situation.

I told my client that if I were him, I wouldn’t risk going to prison for at least 5 years if I could plead guilty and serve only 30 days. He could serve the time and then go back to his family and job without skipping much of a beat, compared to 5 terrifying and miserable years in prison.

It wasn’t easy. He has a criminal record now. He’s a felon. He can’t vote or own or use a gun. But he’s a free man who spent 30 days away from his family and job and life instead of 5 years. Not an easy choice to make, but not the hardest to make, either.

This is a perfect example of one situation where I advised my client to take a plea deal.

*not her real name

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277

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