From television and movies, many people in America might think that every criminal case is destined to end up in front of a jury, with both sides making impassioned pleas about the guilt or innocence of the accused. But, the reality is that there are simply far too many criminal cases to be processed for that type of approach to be feasible. As a result, the actual reality is that most criminal cases in Florida and throughout the country end via plea negotiations, in which the defendant pleads guilty to the crimes charged in exchange for a lesser sentence, or to lesser charges which come with a less severe sentence.
In our country, the concept of “innocent until proven guilty” is one of the bedrock principles of the criminal justice system. Every defendant who is charged with a crime does indeed have the constitutional right to take the case all the way to a trial, including even a jury trial in many cases. However, many defendants decide to explore other avenues to resolve their cases.
Plea negotiations can become part of any given criminal case from the get-go. One of the first steps in a criminal case, for both the prosecution and the defense, is to evaluate the evidence that will be part of the case. The prosecution is obligated to turn over all of the evidence it has in the case, including any evidence that might be “exculpatory,” meaning that it might tend to show that the defendant actually did not commit the crime in question.
Once both sides have had a chance to review the evidence that is available in the case, they may reach different conclusions about their relative strengths of their positions. If the defense believes that the evidence is simply overwhelming, they may want to approach the prosecution about plea negotiations. On the other hand, if the prosecution believes that the evidence isn’t all that strong, it may be willing to offer the defendant a deal to end the case.