The Brevard County Sherriff’s Office six-month investigation into a drug trafficking ring has resulted in more than 60 arrests, the seizure of 75 firearms and enough fentanyl for 500,000 lethal doses. The Sherriff’s Office named three individuals—two men and one woman—as the leaders and obtained a total of 104 arrest warrants.

According to WKMG ClickOrlando, the leaders face charges under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act, which allows prosecutors to try the leaders of a group for the crimes their subordinates committed. These charges and the sheer number of arrest warrants suggest the Sherriff’s Office may be open to plea bargains, especially for individuals willing to testify against the leaders.

When is it a good idea to take a plea bargain?

Thanks to the nation’s culture of plea bargaining, in which more than 90% of felony convictions are the result of plea bargains, most people caught up in the Brevard County drug trafficking bust might expect their lawyers and prosecutors to negotiate charges and options from the earliest stages.

These negotiations often lead to the acceptance of lesser charges in return for the dismissal of the most serious charges. Less often, defendants will plead guilty to charges in exchange for lighter sentences. However, there are hidden consequences for any plea bargain:

  • Plea bargains result in conviction. People who agree to plea bargains are found guilty of whatever charges they accept. The charges will go on their criminal records and may limit their ability to find jobs and housing.
  • Plea bargains have rules. It is critical that everyone involved in a plea bargain understands the terms of the deal and can live by them. People who break the terms of their plea bargains can have their deals revoked.
  • Plea bargains begin with an assumption of guilt. Plea bargains typically involve a choice of guilty pleas, but United States law presumes that defendants are innocent until proven guilty. Defendants who accept plea deals are sacrificing their rights to defend themselves in court.

Importantly, prosecutors typically offer plea bargains as a form of convenience, not out of the goodness of their hearts. Defendants may want to remember that what is convenient for the prosecutors is not always the best choice for them, and they should consult with their attorneys before accepting any deals.

Plea bargains do not always lead to justice

Many of the defendants in the Brevard County drug bust will likely soon be offered plea deals. Some may even confess to crimes they did not commit to avoid going to trial for more serious crimes.

If you ever find yourself facing a plea deal, you should make sure you fully understand all the risks and consequences of your position before you make a decision.