The Risk of Taking a Case to Trial

Taking a case to trial is both risky and expensive. Many believe that taking a case to trial will result in a slam dunk victory. The problem with this is that the defense must convince 12 random that you’re innocent. Studies show that juries already have a pre-conceived bias against defendants. This bias increases for defendants who are already incarcerated. The bias also changes based on demographics such as race, sex, and religion.

When defense attorneys and prosecutors engage in pre-trial discussions, they exchange evidence and arguments. In most cases the state will produce evidence that will show that the defendant is guilty. The defense attorney will argue why the evidence may not lead to a conviction and may produce “exculpable” (showing lack of guilt) evidence themselves. Once a case is fully pre-tried both parties are usually left with a case that either could win. In other words, it’s usually a risk for both the state and the defense to take a case to trial because the state risks losing a conviction, and the defense risks a conviction which could result in fines, jail, or both.

At trial the State has the burden to persuade a jury that you are guilty of each element of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Reasonable doubt means that there’s no real possibility of another explanation. Although this sounds like defendants are at an advantage, about three fourths of cases that go to trial result in a conviction. If you lose at trial then you will be convicted of each charge the jury finds against you. Defendants take on a lot of risk by choosing to go to trial.

The alternative is taking a plea. A plea is almost always a better solution because you know exactly what you’ll be found guilty for, and you can better prepare for sentencing. Additionally, you won’t have to pay your attorney’s expensive trial fee, if there is one. Taking a plea deal provides some level of certainty and control. Many times, you can negotiate with a prosecutor about a proposed sentence as well. However, the defendant must make the decision to decide whether to take a plea or go to trial. Attorneys have an obligation to inform their clients of all the risks associated with trial, and may suggest what to do. However, the attorney must abide by their client’s decision.