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Law & Schriener, LLC Aug. 10, 2023

Do Most Criminal Cases Go To Trial Or Do They Plead Out?

At least 95% of cases end up pleading because it’s a certain outcome and, frankly, it’s less expensive and time-consuming. Although there are exceptions, you typically know what’s going to happen with a plea. In addition, a plea is not as much work as a trial. A trial is public, very stressful and time-consuming. That’s why a trial is so much more expensive because it takes a lot more time on the attorney’s part. Sometimes going to trial does not even end up being beneficial, because you don’t know what’s going to happen: you don’t know what your jury looks like until the day of trial; you don’t know what evidence is going to be admitted until, at the earliest, your motions in limine are ruled on, but often not until the other side objects and the court rules; and, very frequently, your sentence is higher if you go to trial and lose. For all of these reasons, cases typically settle out of court.

With that said, it’s very unusual to get a complete dismissal. In state courts, you can sometimes get a reduction of charges. When dealing with multiple counts in federal court, you can sometimes get the U.S. Attorney’s Office to agree to let your client just plead to one or two of the counts and dismiss the rest. But a complete dismissal is really rare, much more so than a diversionary agreement.

When Does Sentencing Generally Take Place After Someone Has Been Found Guilty?

In federal court, sentencing is usually going to take place three months after the day that you plead. The federal rule on sentencing says that the probation office has to have 70 days to write the pre-sentence report. We then have two weeks after we receive the “disclosure copy” of that report to file any objections. So, the federal judges tend to schedule sentencing about three months from the plea or a finding of guilt at trial. In the state courts in Illinois and Missouri, sentencing usually occurs about six weeks after the plea or after a finding of guilt by a jury.

If you need more time to prepare for the hearing, you can always ask for – and typically receive — more time. If you are expecting a really contested sentencing hearing, then you might need more time to ensure that you have all of your ducks in a row, so to speak. I have had pretty good luck asking judges for more time, especially when someone has been on bond. That is because the judges know that the person won’t just be sitting in jail during the time extension. However, if someone’s facing really serious time, or if there are complicated issues to be resolved, and the client wants the extension, the judge will consider it.

What Does The Judge Consider When Determining A Sentence?

In federal court, the judge considers the U.S. sentencing guidelines when determining a sentence. There is a sentencing commission in the state of Missouri that will prepare an advisory sentencing assessment. In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court found that the federal guidelines were unconstitutional if mandatory. Despite this, the federal courts continue to rely on these guidelines because that’s what they have been accustomed to doing since they went into place around 1991, and that’s what the federal courts of appeals say they have to do.

Generally speaking, the guidelines sentencing reports from federal or state probation offices have a similar framework. They will consider the nature of your crime, prior convictions, your personal background, your employment situation, the level of education that you’ve received, and your family situation and “ties to the community.” They will also consider whether or not you own your own home or have lived at the same residence for long time, whether or not you are a danger to the community and whether or not you need a serious sentence to really teach you to not repeat your behavior. There is nothing that the court can’t consider.

Sentencing hearings are often the focus of a case once we get past investigating and if it looks like a guilty plea is in the client’s best interest. A lot of effort goes into crafting a sentencing memorandum that’s really compelling for the judge. We may even put on witnesses and collect letters from people that know the client (family members, church members, schoolmates, neighbors etc.). Community support is huge in my opinion and judges absolutely look at that sort of thing.

For more information on Cases Going To Trial vs. Pleading Out, an initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling today.


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