The vast majority of criminal charges are resolved by a plea bargain. While access to a public trial is a constitutional right set forth in the Sixth Amendment, few defendants ever exercise this right.
The reasons for accepting a plea bargain instead of challenging the evidence and going to trial are varied. However, many criminal defendants can't afford to sit in jail while their case is pending and most public defenders and criminal courts have a heavy workload which means trials must be delayed. In this system, prosecutors have broad powers which go unchecked without some push back.
Criminal law attorneys and scholars have long criticized the prevalence of plea bargains and their evolution in light of constitutional law concerns. But most agree that right now their focus is on making the criminal justice system "less bad" rather than eliminating what currently exists.
The evolution of the plea bargain began after the civil war in response to the higher rate of displaced persons and an ever increasing crime rate. For the past 150+ years, the plea bargain has taken hold as the main disposition for a criminal case. The plea bargain has survived constitutional challenges, despite many in the criminal justice system acknowledging the faults that come with many plea bargains.
There are many factors that go into a plea bargain and whether to accept one or not. So how do you know whether you are getting a good deal or not? How do you know if you should take a case to trial or not?
An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you evaluate a proposed plea bargain. Experienced criminal defense attorneys can certainly act as a check on the system by challenging plea bargains and trying cases when necessary. Knowing the judges and prosecutors, understanding juries and how a jury may interpret evidence are all important considerations.
You want to be certain that your attorney knows the law, but more importantly knows the players. Before you take any plea, make sure you speak with a criminal defense attorney that practices in your area.