Someone arrested and hit with a criminal charge in Wisconsin may receive a plea deal. This is an offer of a more lenient sentence in exchange for the defendant pleading guilty. While seemingly preferable to a lengthy trial and harsher punishment, plea deals still come with unique risks.

The Atlantic took a deep dive into the nature of plea deals. Understanding what lies beneath the surface of a seemingly preferable sentence allows defendants to comprehend the stakes.

The popularity of plea deals

One of the reasons plea deals are so common is that they avoid the time and cost involved with a traditional trial. They also speed up the legal process. That said, one of the many dangers of plea deals is that defendants become convicts, even if they did not commit a crime. A person could have mental health struggles, suffer from an unhealthy addiction or feel stuck in a cycle of poverty that brings them face-to-face with unintended criminal behavior.

The financial effects of plea deals

Another reason a defendant may accept a plea deal is to potentially avoid the financial costs of going through the legal system. Even for a minor offense, a person has to pay court costs, fees and fines. The court could order the defendant to complete a class, which could also cost money. The longer a case draws out, the more the costs increase. Accepting a plea deal may seem like a financially viable option.

The risks of plea deals

The most essential idea to bear in mind with plea deals is that they leave a defendant with a criminal record, even if she or he is innocent. Because of the existence of a criminal record, obstacles stand in the way of employment, financial and educational opportunities. Should the person have a brush with the law in the future, for whatever reason, having a criminal record can result in a harsher punishment.