Whether to have a trial on a criminal case depends on many factors. The determination can only be made after a thorough examination of all of the facts and circumstances of a particular case. However, there are certain considerations in every case that must be taken into account when deciding whether to take a case to trial.
The Strength of the Evidence
The strength of the evidence is usually the most significant consideration in deciding whether to take a case to trial. In Texas, the state needs only probable cause to file a criminal charge. Probable cause is commonly explained as “more likely than not” that a crime was committed. In order to convict someone at trial, the state needs proof beyond a reasonable doubt. While there is no standard legal definition of “beyond a reasonable doubt”, we know that it is the highest burden of proof in the legal system and something greater than “clear and convincing” evidence, which is a lesser standard under Texas law.
There are many considerations in evaluating whether the state can prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. These include:
- the credibility of the witnesses;
- the number of witnesses;
- the strength and quality of the investigation;
- the existence of extrinsic evidence – photographs, videos, documents, forensic evidence (e.g., DNA, blood tests) etc.; and
- the defendant’s willingness or ability to testify
Effectively weighing these factors requires the knowledge and experience of a qualified criminal defense lawyer.
The Plea Bargain Offer
The plea bargain offered by the state is another consideration in whether to take a case to trial. If the state’s case is strong and a reasonable plea offer is made, it may be in the accused’s best interest to enter a plea. A plea bargain removes the uncertainty of the sentence that a judge or jury might impose if a person is found guilty at trial. In some cases, the state makes an offer that is categorically unreasonable, and the case will be tried on that basis alone. Whether a plea bargain should be considered depends upon, among other factors:
- the above factors related to the strength of the evidence;
- the reasonableness of the plea bargain; and
- the client’s willingness to face the uncertainty of trial.
The Range of Punishment
The range of punishment is another consideration in whether to take a case to trial. A defendant charged with a class C possession of drug paraphernalia facing a $500 maximum fine and no jail time has much different considerations than a defendant facing a first degree felony charge with a high likelihood of substation prison time. While no attorney can accurately predict how a judge or jury how may sentence a defendant, it is crucial to have the assistance of a qualified and experienced criminal defense attorney in making the decision about whether to go to trial.