It's not an uncommon dilemma. Nonetheless, it haunts and perplexes your typical public defender. What should you advise your client to do? Take the plea or not?
I have two cases that are troubling me. In one case I have been actively pursuing an alternate sentence. My client has been in on bail for two months. It is his first offense. At first, the district attorney's 'offer' was a guilty plea and 6 months jail. Then it was a guilty plea and 8 months jail. It is clear from the nature of the charge that my client needs rehab. I tussled with the DA over whether it should be residential and finally the DA and the court agreed (for logistical reasons) that an intensive outpatient program would be fine. So my office has been working to get some community resources together to help my client get his life back on track - with employment, housing, treatment, and continued support. Once this program is in place, my client can plead guilty and get out of jail, with the agreed sentence being whatever program is put together. This case has taken a lot of time and energy, and I was well on my way to resolving this case when an attorney asked me harshly, "Why are you giving him a criminal conviction on a first arrest?"
I don't know if I have a good answer. I had asked the DA to consider an alternate disposition to try to avoid giving my client a criminal record, but my request was flatly refused. That was back when we were looking at months in jail. Suddenly I wonder if I'm wrong, and I've been working the case in the wrong direction the whole time. Maybe he should go to trial instead - even if convicted after trial, the sentence would either be a similar drug program or jail time that my client would probably have already completed by that point. But it would certainly mean that he wouldn't be getting out for another few months, at least. And the facts / evidence pretty much points to "conviction."
My other case is also a first arrest. If she agrees to pay restitution, she will avoid a conviction. It's a good deal. My client insists that she didn't do anything, and is angry that she was even arrested in the first place. She believes that this is a vengeance issue, but after I did some investigation and advised her that she doesn't really have a good defense, and that the District Attorney seems to have a pretty solid case, she said "If that's what I have to do then I'll do it." Should I tell her to just pay the money and be done with it? Pay it, get no conviction, move on with your life? If she really didn't do anything and this was just vengeance, then this won't be the end of the issues, I can imagine. I just don't know what to tell her.