Plea Bargains: Things You May Not Know About Making Deals in Court
What Is a Plea Bargain?
Plea bargaining is the process that a criminal defendant charged with a crime(s), agrees to waive their constitutional right to a jury trial. The defendant will be given the opportunity to enter a plea other than guilty to the original criminal charges. In exchange, the defendant agrees to plead guilty to a lesser charge, serve probation, serve a shorter sentence, or other options. 97% of all federal convictions are obtained through plea bargaining, not a jury trial.
There is a fair amount of controversy surrounding plea bargains. When a person is charged with a crime they might take a plea bargain with a guilty plea when they may be innocent. The reason for this is they might be scared into accepting a guilty plea by the prosecutor or a public defender who just wants to avoid a jury trial and end the case quickly. For example, the prosecutor can threaten a defendant with 20-40 years in prison if they are found guilty by a jury. Alternatively, they can bargain accepting a guilty plea of lesser charge(s) for just two years in prison. Even innocent people may want to avoid even the slightest chance of losing the jury trial and serving the 20-40 years.
Plea bargains eliminate surprises. With a plea bargain, you know the outcome.
Your criminal defense lawyer can negotiate with the prosecutor until an agreement can be reached.
Can save you time and money. Criminal cases can take weeks to resolve in court.
The defendant will have to plead guilty to charges and face some sort of punishment.
The defendant waives their constitutional right to a jury trial. The defendant waives the right to defend themselves. The defendant waives their right to remain silent.
Limits your ability or waives your rights to appeal.
There may be more disadvantages to a plea bargain. Contact a trial lawyer at Krupp Law firm immediately to discuss your case.
For this reason, you need strong advocates on your side. The Krupp Law Firm attorneys are tough analytical trial lawyers who will fight for you.
Four Types of Pleas
Not Guilty Plea
The defendant denies and wants to contest the charges. A not guilty plea forces the prosecutor to prove you are guilty. The burden of proof is on the government. The government must prove guilt beyond a 'reasonable doubt' before a jury. This is referring to the common statement "guilty until proven innocent".
Initially, all defendants enter a plea of not guilty.
The defendant may plead guilty instead of forcing the prosecutor to prove their guilt. Usually, a defendant pleads guilty as part of a plea agreement.
If the defendant pleads guilty the judge will ask whether the defendant is pleading voluntarily, knowingly, and understandingly. The judge is ensuring that the defendant has not been coerced or threatened into pleading guilty.
If the defendant is pleading guilty as part of a plea bargain with the prosecutor the judge wants to make sure the prosecutor will do what they promised.
No Contest Plea also known as "Nolo Contendere" or "NOLO"
Different Types of Bargains
Are Plea Bargains Legally Binding?
Once the judge approves the plea bargain, it becomes a legally binding agreement and the defendant is required to follow through with the terms of the agreement. This means that the defendant must plead guilty to the crime as agreed upon in the plea bargain and accept the sentence that has been negotiated. If the defendant does not follow through with the terms of the plea bargain, the judge may choose to revoke the plea bargain and the case may proceed to trial.
It's important to note that plea bargains are not always successful and a judge may choose to reject a plea bargain if they believe it is not in the best interests of justice. In such cases, the case may proceed to trial and the defendant will have the opportunity to present a defense and potentially be found guilty or not guilty.
Why Do 95% Of Cases End With a Plea Bargain?
Why Are Sentences Usually Reduced for a Guilty Plea?
Negotiating a Plea Bargain
Plea bargaining is a negotiation between the Prosecutor and the Defendant. The Prosecutor is offering a 'deal' to the Defendant to avoid a lengthy and expensive trial. The Prosecutor may offer lesser charges, shorter jail/prison sentence, or other options in return that the Defendant pleads guilty to lesser charges. The Judge does not have to accept a plea bargain but will a majority of the time.
The 'deal' the prosecutor offers is to save the state time and money while closing the cases quickly. The major problem is that many defendants plead guilty even when they are innocent out of fear. If the Prosecutor is throwing every charge possible at you it may come with a lengthy jail/prison time. The plea bargain then looks tempting even to innocent defendants just to avoid the possibility they spend a long time in prison.
This is why you need a tough, aggressive criminal defense lawyer with the experience to get a better plea bargain or get the charges dropped altogether.
Are Plea Bargains Available in All Cases?
Is There a Time Limit on Making a Plea Bargain?
There is no specific time limit on when a plea bargain can be made in a criminal case. Plea bargains can be offered at any point during the criminal justice process, from the early stages of investigation to just before trial.
However, it's important to note that plea bargains are more likely to be successful when they are made early in the process. This is because both the prosecution and the defense have more time to negotiate and come to an agreement that is acceptable to both parties.
Plea bargains are also more likely to be successful when both the prosecution and the defense have strong evidence to support their respective positions. If either party has a weak case, they may be more open to negotiating a plea bargain in order to avoid the risk of losing at trial.
Ultimately, the timing of a plea bargain depends on the specific circumstances of the case and the willingness of both the prosecution and the defense to negotiate.
Do Constitutional Rights Apply to Plea Bargains?
Constitutional rights apply to plea bargains to some extent, but the nature of plea bargains means that certain rights may be waived (such as right to remain silent and right to a jury trial) or limited in order for the plea bargain to be legally binding.
One of the most significant constitutional rights that may be impacted by a plea bargain is the right to a fair trial. By accepting a plea bargain, the defendant is essentially giving up their right to a trial and agreeing to plead guilty to the crime. This means that the defendant is waiving their right to present a defense, to cross-examine witnesses, and to have a jury decide their guilt or innocence.
However, the decision to plead guilty must be voluntary and the defendant must be fully informed of their rights before they can waive them. This means that the defendant must understand the nature of the charge, the maximum possible penalty for the crime, and the rights that they are giving up by pleading guilty.
In addition, the defendant must also be aware of any potential immigration consequences of pleading guilty, as a conviction could result in deportation or other immigration-related issues.
Overall, while constitutional rights do apply to plea bargains to some extent, they may be waived or limited in order for the plea bargain to be legally binding. It's important for defendants to fully understand the implications of accepting a plea bargain and to consult with an attorney before making a decision.
Does the Judge Have To Accept a Plea Bargain?
Is a Lawyer Needed To Plead Guilty or No Contest?
Who Decides Whether To Accept a Plea Bargain?
Can a Defendant Plead Guilty if They Aren’t?
Yes, it happens all the time. Plea bargains incentivize people to plead guilty even if they are innocent or over charged.
It is generally not advisable for a defendant to plead guilty to a crime if they are not actually guilty. Pleading guilty to a crime carries serious legal consequences and can result in
- a criminal record,
- and other penalties.
In order for a plea of guilty to be legally valid, the defendant must understand the nature of the charge and the potential consequences of pleading guilty. The defendant must also voluntarily and knowingly waive their right to a trial and to present a defense.
If the defendant pleads guilty to a crime that they did not commit, they may be able to later challenge their guilty plea and request that it be set aside. However, this process can be complex and may require the assistance of an attorney.
It's important for defendants to carefully consider their options before making a decision about how to plead in a criminal case. If the defendant is not sure whether they are guilty or not, it may be advisable to plead not guilty and proceed to trial. This will give the defendant the opportunity to present a defense and potentially be found not guilty. Alternatively, the defendant may choose to negotiate a plea bargain if one is offered by the prosecution. However, it's important to remember that any plea bargain must be entered into voluntarily and with a full understanding of the potential consequences.
Can I Withdraw My Guilty Plea?
Yes, you can challenge your guilty plea. You can allege and prove the guilty plea was not knowingly and voluntarily made. You can:
- file a motion for a new trial or
- writ of Habeas Corpus.
Missouri law states that you have 30 days to file a motion for a new trial or to amend a judgment.
According to the ACLU, The "Great Writ" of habeas corpus is a fundamental right in the Constitution that protects against unlawful and indefinite imprisonment.
Habeas corpus protects the constitutional right that a prisoner is treated fairly during the trial.
Both 'motion for a new trial' and habeas corpus allows a person to make allegations and provide evidence that a guilty plea was not knowingly or voluntarily made.
We highly recommend you consult a lawyer when withdrawing a guilty plea. This is a complex sitution. If you are successful in withdrawing your guilty plea you will have to start all over defending your case.