During the process of conducting a consultation either online, over the phone, or in person with a prospective client facing criminal charges, I often get asked the question of whether the outcome in two cases, both with identical charges, can be predicted. The scenario is usually something like ‘my buddy got charged with X and got Y specific deal and outcome, shouldn’t I get the same thing?. The short answer is no.
A variety of factors go into the outcome of a criminal case. One of the most important factors is what county your case will be prosecuted in. Different counties can have completely different practices in terms of how cases are treated. Sentencing options may be available in one jurisdiction, but not another. Some judges may only accept open sentences, and others may accept stipulations or only recommended sentences. Additionally, prosecutors working in different jurisdictions may have different approaches. In some jurisdictions, something like a deferred prosecution may be possible, and in others, it may not be. For example, a first offense misdemeanor domestic violence frequently results in a deferred judgement in many jurisdictions, but in others such an offer is simply never made. Having an attorney on your side that knows the varying practices of the counties within which he practices is important, so that your expectations can be set, and also so that he or she knows prior to dealing with the prosecutor what options are among the possibilities in resolving your case.
Second, no two sets of facts are identical. A first DUI is not the same as every other first DUI. In that type of case, numerous factors matter – blood alcohol level, driving behavior, any accident, injuries, or even whether there were any children in the car.
Third, and perhaps this is the least surprising point, use of an attorney can have a significant impact on the outcome of the case. Not having an attorney, a defendant may not know which options are reasonable or possible under the facts and circumstances of the case. The prosecutor may also be more receptive to arguments posed by the defense attorney as opposed to by the defendant himself. There are also many different styles of defense attorneys, and while some approaches may work under certain circumstances, they may not work or achieve optimal results in others.
Of course, another factor may be that your criminal history completely differs from the history of another individual charged with the same crime. Even criminal history that is not of the same type as whatever is currently charged can have an impact on the outcome of your case, the sentencing possibilities, and the willingness of the prosecutor to negotiate with your defense attorney. Of course, the fact that some cases are tougher than others does not mean that securing a favorable outcome is impossible or improbable, but merely that doing so will require additional time and finesse. What constitutes a favorable outcome is always relative to the unique facts and circumstances of a case.