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Evaluating Sentence Exposure When Considering a Plea Agreement

As a Louisiana criminal defense attorney, I frequently have clients who are trying to decide if they should accept a plea agreement or go to trial.  A key element of the decision making process is the possible sentence exposure – that is, how many years in prison the District Attorney is offering versus what the maximum prison sentence could be if they are found guilty at trial.

Sentence Exposure for Armed Robbery in Louisiana

Here is an example of how this process works:   A defendant is charged with armed robbery.  He has no priors on his record, and while the district attorney’s office does have some evidence against him, it is not what I would call a slam dunk case for the State. The District Attorney has offered a plea bargain of 12 to 15 years in prison.

The defendant does not understand why the sentence offer is so high.  This is why — armed robbery is considered one of the most egregious crimes, second only to murder and rape, so conviction of armed robbery carries a severe penalty.  In Louisiana, the minimum exposure is 10 years in prison and the maximum is 99 years. There are many judges in the state court system that will punish you severely if you are convicted of this crime. There are some judges in South Louisiana who will give a sentence of 50 to 75 years, even for a first conviction.

Evaluating the Plea Offer

In this case, the District Attorney had offered a sentence of between 12 and 15 years.  If the defendant goes to trial, he could possibly win his case and get a not guilty verdict.  But if the jury returns a guilty verdict of armed robbery, the defendant will then receive a sentence anywhere from 10 – 99 years.  Going to trial means that he is facing a possible huge exposure, so that makes the plea agreement something to seriously consider – even though the evidence against the defendant could be stronger.

It is ultimately up to the defendant to decide whether to accept a plea bargain or go to trial. However, your criminal defense attorney should explain to the you and your family all of the possible outcomes so you can make an informed decision — particularly for felony charges like armed robbery that carry potentially long prison sentences.  If my client has a strong defense, I never recommend a compromise.  However, if the District Attorney has some evidence which may result in a conviction,  I am required to advise my client of his possible prison exposure. This is difficult decision — which is why it is so important to choose an experienced criminal defense lawyer.

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