Most Cases Do Not Go To Trial
And something that comes up when talking with clients, not just my clients, but hearing other attorneys talk to their clients is the concept of trial or settlement?
So, one thing that pop culture and especially TV has done that’s really been a disservice to everybody is that anytime there is a case in a criminal show, one of the police dramas or a legal drama, it almost always goes to trial, always.
You get the policeman, you get the prosecutor up there that suddenly gets the person to confess on the stand, which never happens in real life. Or flips it around and gets them to admit the one piece of evidence that was tying them to the crime that actually they were the murderer the whole time.
It makes great TV, but it doesn’t make a very good reality. So, most cases, in fact, there’s been a lot of studies done on this and a lot of research and the vast majority, and when I say vast majority I mean you’re getting into like the 80 percentile and higher range, of cases, do not go to trial.
In fact, if you ever just take time in Oklahoma, we have oscn.net and odcr.com, where you can look up people and look up cases.
If you just look up criminal felonies for 2020 or, let’s say 2019, 2018, because all of them should be mostly resolved by now, and just start scrolling through it, you’ll find the vast majority in every county did not go to a trial. They ended up with a settlement.
The same is true in a lot of your family law cases. Most of those don’t go to trial because, frankly, it’s kind of the same reason in criminal one side may have really good evidence against the other, and you don’t want to roll the dice.
A settlement is not losing, I’ve heard people talk about it like that. It’s not. Settlements happen all the time in tons of cases. And what a settlement is, it’s a compromise. Is my client going to get everything they want? No. But the other side’s probably not going to get everything they wanted either. So, a settlement is just a negotiation.
Now, why would you go to a settlement instead of taking it to a trial? A settlement is certain, you know what the outcome’s going to be. If this is a criminal case, let’s say, the offer is two years in eight years out, well that’s two years in prison, which is not great.
Even with Oklahoma’s overcrowded prisons and people being let out extremely quickly, that’s still not a great thing. No one wants to go to prison. But if you’re looking at 10 years, a jury could end up giving you all 10 years.
That just depends on how the trial goes, what the jury makeup is, what they had for breakfast that morning. There’s really no way to know this, there’s no crystal ball that tells anyone what’s going to happen. So, sometimes it’s better to take the settlement than to roll the dice.
Now, is a settlement always the best option? No. There are a lot of times you’ll want a trial. A lot of times you have good evidence.
You believe that there’s maybe no other option. Going back to criminal, there’s a lot of times there are bigger high-profile cases that the plea offer is so high that it makes sense to roll the dice at a trial because you have nothing to lose.
If the prosecutors are offering you life in prison and it carries life in prison, then there’s no downside to doing a trial because who knows?
Maybe you’ll get lucky and have one juror, and as the evidence was coming out in court, they didn’t believe it. And that’s enough to get a hung jury. Maybe it’s enough to get them to get everyone else to convince that you’re not guilty. These are all considerations in going into a trial or a settlement.
Also, the cost. There’s a lot of people who would rather do a settlement because trials are very expensive, not just for the county doing them, but for that person individually, because of attorneys… if I’m doing a trial, I have to basically shut down everything I’m doing and focus on that trial. I’m not working on other cases. I’m just working on trial cases. I have a good friend, she did a 10-day trial. And that 10-day trial, was broken up over several days.
Even though it was broken up over several days, she ended up spending at least a month and a half where she was not really making any other money. She was just working on that trial because it was so complex, which gets into the tens and tens and, depending on the issue, maybe even $100,000 sometimes on some of the major civil or other types of cases. But even a criminal case could easily top 20, $30,000 when you start talking about a trial.
And if you’re not willing to spend that money on it, and it’s that complicated of an issue, then sometimes it’s better to take the settlement offer because you’re not going to be able to have the best defense, if you’re not able to get an attorney that’s going to look through every single medical report is going to hire expert witnesses that cost a ton of money to bring them down into the county you’re in, to testify on your behalf. Hopefully, they’ve looked at the evidence and agree with you.
There was a situation when I worked as a prosecutor in Nowata were these people, it was a child abuse type case. It was neglect, I believe actually. And the expert came in and said they did it, so they hired their own expert.
They had to mortgage their home again to get this expert. The expert came in and looked at the evidence and was like, “No, my testimony would be you did it.” So, they had to get another expert. And by the time that that happened, they had already mortgaged their house like twice, sold about everything they owned. And, in the end, the jury didn’t believe their expert and still sentenced that person to prison.
So, sometimes a trial is good. Sometimes a trial is in your best interest. But sometimes taking a settlement is also in your best interest. So, talk to your attorney, figure out what the situation is, and go over your options.
Your attorney should be giving you options. Should be saying, “Hey, look, if we go to trial, here’s what we are looking at. If we take a settlement, here’s what we’re looking at.” That’s always been my philosophy as an attorney, is that I’m going to give you the options of both sides and let you make the decision. I’ll tell you my advice on what decision you should make but, in the end, it’s your decision to make.
So, if you have questions, if you’re thinking about a case, if you’re deciding if you want to do a trial on something, or if you want to do a settlement and you don’t have an attorney, or if you are looking for an attorney, you’ve recently received a summons and an offer has come in, and you want to know if it’s something you should take, then give us a call. We can go over it with you. We can represent you on it. And we can, hopefully, help you out on this. So, thank you.