Congdon Law. PLLC.

Are Most Drug-Related Cases Settled With Plea Deals? If So, Is A Plea Deal Always The Best Option For Your Clients?

Most cases are settled with a plea deal. Plea deals are not unique to drug offenses. Approximately 95% of cases in the state of Minnesota are resolved through a plea deal, pre-trial diversion process, or a pre-trial dismissal. That leaves about 5% of cases that actually go to trial, which is a very small number of cases. Whether it’s best for a client to take a plea deal or push the case to trial depends on the person’s circumstances. It certainly depends on the facts of the case. In a case where law enforcement finds drugs in a common area where 10 people were present, that’s a great case for a trial. It’s going to be hard for a prosecutor to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the person charged was the one who was acting in control of the drugs.

However, if that same situation happens to a person with a significant prior criminal record, that may cause them to face a prison sentence on the charge. If they’re offered probation, perhaps probation is a better option than going to trial and risking a prison sentence. In which case, the plea deal is a good choice for them. Communication with my clients throughout every step of the process is essential. My job is to make sure that they understand the risks and benefits of each option as it pertains to their individual circumstance. Ultimately, when they have to make a choice between having a trial or taking a plea deal, they will have all of the information that they need to make a good, educated choice.

Are Courts Generally More Lenient When It Comes To First Time Drug Offenders?

Courts are more lenient if an individual is facing a first time low level drug offense, such as a first time gross misdemeanor or felony drug offense, which would be a fifth degree in Minnesota. In those situations, the law presumes that if somebody were to be found guilty or plead guilty, they would be placed on probation. The conviction would not go on their record as long as they complete a term of probation.

If it’s a first time drug offense, that’s charged as a very serious drug offense if a significant quantity of substance was found. It could perhaps be charged as a first degree. That’s a presumptive prison sentence simply because of the severity of the offense, even though they may not have any prior drug or criminal history.

If I Intend To Plead Guilty, Why Do I Really Need A Defense Attorney?

Even if you plan to plead guilty on your case, it’s still important to consult with a defense attorney. There could be some things that law enforcement did that was a violation of your rights that you would not be aware of unless you spoke to an attorney who is looking at your case and advocating on your behalf. Additionally, even if you do decide to plead guilty, an attorney can make sure that you’re getting the best terms of a plea deal. That could be a reduced amount of probationary time, reduced fine, or fewer conditions or limitations on your behavior.

All of those things can make a difference, especially if you’re going to be on probation for a number of years. Therefore, even if you’re planning on pleading guilty, it is still beneficial to have an attorney negotiate the best possible sentence on your behalf.

Walk Me Through A Brief Timeline Of What Happens If Someone Decides To Go To Trial With Their Drug Case?

If you decide to go to trial with your drug case, you’ll have several court appearances. Your first court appearance will likely be a bail hearing or an initial appearance where a judge would set conditions of your release while your case is pending. The next hearing may be your omnibus hearing where you’d have to give notice of any issues that you intend to challenge. That could be constitutional issues, evidentiary issues, or due process concerns. All of those things would be brought out at an omnibus hearing. If the judge rules after the omnibus hearing in a way that allows the case to proceed further, you’d be set for trial. The trial process itself can take some significant time. You have to first decide if you’re going to have a jury trial or court trial. With a jury trial, you would have members of the community. If you’re charged with a felony, it’s 12 people. If you’re charged with a gross misdemeanor or misdemeanor, it would be six people. There is jury selection, opening statements from each side, and witnesses.

The witnesses are likely to consist of law enforcement and anyone else who’s involved in the case. It could be the arresting officer, the officer that drove the defendant from the scene to the jail for booking, the jail staff, and/or possibly other jail inmates that claim the defendant made some sort of a confession. Assuming that there was chemical testing done on the substance, the chemist would have to come in and testify to confirm that their testing was done correctly and that the results indicate that it was a controlled substance. Of course, if there were any other witnesses to the offense, perhaps a neighbor, they can also be brought in to testify. If the neighbor saw a lot of people coming in and out of the house, they can testify about the frequency of visitors. That is a witness the state could use if they are trying to establish a drug trafficking offense. There’s a host of people that could be involved and called to testify in a case.

After the state completes their witnesses, the defense gets to put on witnesses if there are any. The defendant could testify if they choose to do so. Once all of the witness testimonies are done, there are closing arguments. The jury would then go and deliberate. A jury’s deliberation could take anywhere from 15 minutes to several days depending on the complexity of the case and the evidence against the defendant.

For more information on Drug Charges In Minnesota, a free initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (651)-964-4512 today.

Jennifer Congdon, Esq.

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