What Does It Mean For Your Criminal Case If The Charges Against You Are Reduced?

If you've been charged with a crime, what does it mean if the prosecutor drops the charges from something more serious to a lesser offense? You'll probably be glad to hear that you're facing a shorter sentence if you're convicted, but is this really a good thing for your case overall? The answer may surprise you.

The good news is that the prosecution doesn't have a better case.

Sometimes the prosecutor reduces the charges on a case because there's not enough evidence to prove a more serious offense. For example, in Maryland, burglary charges are broken down by degrees. A 1st-degree charge of burglary requires the prosecution to prove that you broke into the another person's dwelling with the express intention of committing theft or a violent crime. A 4th-degree conviction for burglary, however, means that the prosecutor only has to prove that you committed the break-in, not that you necessarily intended to rob the place. 

If you were caught with your pockets full of the homeowner's jewelry, that's pretty clear evidence that you were trying to rob the place. If, however, you were just caught entering someone's home without their permission but hadn't damaged anything or taken anything, the prosecutor might have a difficult time proving that you were there to rob the place. Theoretically, you may have just been looking around or trying to seek shelter from the elements. Prosecutors will generally limit the charges to what they think they can prove so that they don't waste time and money on a trial that doesn't end in a conviction.

The bad news is that the prosecution must have some kind of case.

Unfortunately, that also means that if the prosecutor drops the charges, he or she may believe that there is plenty of evidence to convict you on the lesser charge. In many cases, that's because dropping the charges down relieves the prosecution of the burden of proving that you had any criminal intent, or guiding motive, for your actions.

What does this mean for you, in practical terms? First, you're facing a lesser punishment, even if you're convicted. Second, you may soon be hearing from the prosecutor about a plea bargain. Generally speaking, the prosecution may be hoping to avoid a trial altogether by offering you a plea bargain under that lesser charge. Plea bargains are being used in increasing numbers to settle criminal cases. 

For example, if you're charged in Maryland on a 1st-degree burglary charge, you could face 20 years in prison if you're convicted. If the prosecution lowers the charges to the 4th-degree, you'd only face 3 years in prison. The prosecution may decide to lower the charges and offer you a deal in which you would plead guilty in exchange for 90 days in jail and 2 years of probation. If you accept, the prosecution gets to count the case as a conviction.

What happens if you refuse to make a plea? Your case goes to trial, and you run the risk of a conviction and a 3-year sentence. In theory, going to trial shouldn't increase your sentence if you're convicted, but studies show that it often does.

Keep in mind that every case is different, and what's true in many cases isn't necessarily true in yours. Only you and your attorney can really evaluate what it means for your case if the charges are reduced. However, you should make sure that you consider both the good and bad implications of a reduced charge before you decide how to proceed.

For more information, contact a criminal lawyer in your area.

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