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Don't be in a rush to take the plea deal you're offered

If you've been charged with a crime in Illinois, the odds are high that your case will never go to trial. While it varies a little from state to state, 97 percent of federal convictions happen through plea deals. So do 94 percent of convictions for felonies at the state level.

Unfortunately, not all of those people who plead guilty are guilty. Since the system records them as guilty, there's no way to tell for sure how many innocent people take a plea bargain instead of taking their chances at trial. However, it's believed to be a considerable number. Seventy percent of the people in your local jail are there because they can't afford bail. They can't even afford what it would cost to get a bail bondsman to put up the rest of their bail for them.

A plea bargain, for many people, is simply a bargain with "the devil they know" in order to get home to their families and their lives faster. Once they do the math, many people realize that they'll spend more time in jail waiting on their trial than they would if they take a plea. They decide to plead guilty for practical reasons.

The only problem is that most of those people make their decision without considering the damage a plea bargain will actually do to the rest of their lives. Under the law, a plea deal is the same as being found guilty at trial. From the moment that you plead guilty, you have a criminal record that could interfere with your ability to obtain school loans, get housing, obtain employment or gain a professional license.

No matter how well your life improves -- and many do go on from their low point in jail to improve their circumstances significantly -- you won't be able to escape the echoes of that plea deal. Talk to an experienced criminal defense attorney about your case so that you can consider all your rights and options.

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