Sometimes when a defendant is facing serious charges, the prosecution will offer a plea negotiation whereby the defendant can forego a trial and plead guilty in exchange for reduced charges, a shorter sentence or some other benefit. This often comes up in cases of sex crimes. Authorities hope that a defendant will fear the stigma associated with these charges as a criminal trial drags on, damaging one’s reputation even before the outcome is known.
However, one defendant in New Jersey recently chose to reject such an offer and fight back against sex crime charges. A former sheriff now in his mid-eighties, the defendant is accused of sexual assault against a young boy. The alleged abuse would have occurred decades ago.
The defendant was indicated earlier this year and was offered a deal by prosecutors. He could plead guilty to two counts; the remaining four would be dropped and the prosecution would recommend a total of less than 10 years in state prison. He chose instead to appear in court, moving with the assistance of a walker, and reject the deal by pleading not guilty.
Perhaps more so than with any other type of allegations, the public tends to conclude as soon as sex crime charges are filed that the defendant is guilty. The media run wild with these stories — the more shocking, the better — and see a defendant in a position of some authority as an easy target. It can be all too easy for defendants in this situation to conclude that their best bet is to give up without a fight.
There are a few important allies, however, that defendants have when facing charges with long-term consequences. One is the Constitution, under which defendants in New Jersey and everywhere else are entitled to a presumption of innocence until proven guilty in court. The other is a criminal defense professional who understands that prosecutors bear the burden of proving guilt, not the other way around, and can help advise a defendant as to the best strategy in court.