San Antonio Criminal Defense

“Should I plead guilty or go to trial?” Or, “what happens if I go to trial and lose?” These are the two biggest questions in every criminal case. Indeed, these are the biggest questions because they carry the biggest consequences. For instance, if you are convicted, then you may go to jail, pay a fine, or lose your family. These consequences can create a feeling of dread, fear, and anxiety for many clients.

However, I want to provide a sensible approach on how to make this decision. It involves three steps. First, is timing. In other words, when should you make this decision? Second, is gathering and reviewing the evidence in your case. Third, is working with your attorney to make the best decision for your case.

In this post, I will walk you through this process. Further, I will also provide helpful examples of common sets of facts that occur in San Antonio Criminal Cases. So let’s get started.

When should you decide to plead guilty or go to trial?

Before you can make this decision, you need to completely review the evidence in your case. This process of gathering and reviewing evidence takes time. And for this reason, I generally advise clients to hold off on making this decision until we can sit down and talk about the case.

But this delay has a second advantage. Frequently, the criminal-justice system can overwhelm clients. Immediately after an arrest, clients have other things on their minds. For example, clients worry about bonding out of jail. They are concerned about the security of their children. Or, they are anxious about losing a job because of the arrest. These are all natural and normal concerns. As a client once told me, “this is all too much!” In short, delaying the decision allows clients to tap the brakes and slow things down.

However, there is one exception to this approach we should consider. In some cases, you may want to plead out early. That is, sometimes it makes sense to plead out early to resolve your case quickly or to prevent the government from filing more charges. This is a fact-specific scenario. I only mention it now because no approach or rule is ever absolute.

How do I gather and review evidence in my case?

The government will provide your attorney with evidence in your case. This evidence frequently contains offense reports, video and audio recordings, and other information. Unfortunately, the government’s evidence is often incomplete or does not accurately show what happened. In these situations, your attorney may need to hire an investigator to conduct a defense investigation. Regardless, once you gather all this information, then you are ready to make a decision.

Before we get started, there is one case we need to discuss. Specifically, this is the case of actual innocence. If this is your situation, then you should never plead guilty. Otherwise, this can have tragic consequences. And although this may be true, the real world is imperfect. And many defendants across the country plead guilty to crimes they did not commit in order to get out of jail. In short, this is just one way the criminal-justice system discriminates against people without money.

What factors should I consider before I decide to plead guilty or go to trial?

1. Strengths and Weaknesses of your case.

One of the biggest factors in any case is how strong or weak the evidence is. This review will depend on the facts of your case. Here, a simple approach is to compare the evidence in your case with the allegations in the indictment. Frequently, the government has overwhelming evidence of a suspect’s guilt. This may include confessions, DNA evidence, or fingerprint evidence.

But not always. Often there are problems with the government’s case. Examples include, police arrested the wrong person, the person acted in self defense, or there was no criminal intent to commit a crime. It also includes illegal searches and seizures. In other words, figure out what the issues are in your case. And then decide if this is something you want to push back on.

2. Compare your options if you plead guilty versus going to trial and losing.

The goal is always to win at trial. No one wants to lose. But if you take your case to trial, you at least need to consider the possibility that a jury may find you guilty. And that is why is is helpful to compare the punishment you will get if you plead guilty versus the punishment you get if you are convicted by a jury. A couple of examples will help us with our discussion.

First, drug cases are the most common criminal cases in San Antonio Federal Court. In fact, these cases are so common that experienced federal-defense attorneys notice patterns in the government’s proof. This includes wiretap evidence, video surveillance, text messages, and sales of drugs to undercover agents or snitches. This is strong evidence the government will take to trial. If this is your case, this factor may support your decision to plead guilty. This is because there is a huge sentencing difference between pleading guilty to a federal drug charge and going to trial and losing on a federal drug charge.

Next, let’s consider when a jury trial may make sense. Misdemeanor DWIs in San Antonio (Bexar County), Texas are the most common misdemeanor trials for a reason. In particular, there is often not much of a difference between pleading guilty to a misdemeanor DWI or going to trial and losing. In both cases, you will get a misdemeanor DWI conviction. The only real difference will be on the probation terms. (Note, I cannot guarantee you will get probation in any case, but most people get probation on DWI 1st or 2nds in San Antonio, with some exceptions.). If you go to trial and lose, then you will likely get a longer probation term, more community service hours, and possibly a bigger fine. But everything else will be about the same.

For that reason, many defendants charged with DWI 1st or 2nd go to trial in San Antonio. The key factors of misdemeanor DWI cases to take to trial are breath or blood test results between .08 and .13, with good arrest videos, and no criminal history. If these are the facts in your Bexar County DWI case, then you should seriously consider taking your case to trial. The exception to this rule is if prosecutors make a good offer. Or if there was an accident.

3. What are the collateral consequences of pleading guilty?

Collateral consequences are the other things that can happen to you apart from the punishment. And for many people, this may be the most important factor to consider. To illustrate this point, consider the case of lawful permanent resident (LPR) arrested on a drug charge. Apart from the criminal punishment, this person may also face deportation proceedings if he or she is convicted of a drug case. In other words, if this person pleads guilty to the drug charge, this person faces the risk of being deported. This person may choose a jury trial in the hopes of preserving his or her immigration status.

4. Extreme Facts (Wow Factors).

Sometimes the facts are so bad, the client is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. That is, if the client pleads guilty to a crime, he or she will get a maximum sentence. If he goes to trial and loses, then he will get a maximum sentence. So what do you do in these cases? If you are going to get the max either way, then you might as well go to trial. Make the prosecutors earn their conviction. However, there is some good news in these types of cases. Sometimes, the prosecutors will work out deals to avoid a trial in these types of cases. If the prosecutor makes a reasonable offer under these circumstances, this factor may weigh in favor of a plea.


The final decision is always up to the client. But this approach helps clients organize their thoughts. And it allows the client and the attorney to work together to achieve the best results possible. Finally, if you are in this situation, then I hope this information is helpful.

Genaro R. Cortez
San Antonio Criminal Defense Attorney.