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.

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© 2016 David A. Nachtigall, Attorney at Law, PLLC

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