The rising number of criminal cases means that courts are more crowded, with judges and prosecutors under more pressure to resolve cases as fast as they can. Unfortunately, criminal trials can take anywhere from several weeks to months. The desire to address issues immediately has led to the increasing use of plea bargains. After all, a plea bargain can be done in several hours, and both the prosecution and the defense have input about the terms and result.
A plea bargain is an accord between a prosecutor and a defendant. In this arrangement, the defendant agrees to plead no contest or guilty in exchange for a deal with the prosecutor. The agreement can be to reduce the charges to something less severe, to drop one or more of the complaints, or to suggest to the judge a specific sentence that all parties can agree upon.
Plea bargaining is a complex process, but they helps streamline criminal trials and ensure that justice is served without clogging up the judicial system. Defendants should understand that this agreement is considered a voluntary one, in which the defendant is admitting their guilt. Plea bargains are also difficult to appeal. There are numerous types and a number of possible outcomes that an experienced Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer should explain clearly to the accused.
Key Federal and California State Laws on Plea Bargains
The practice of plea bargaining is common and accepted in all fifty states of the United States. In truth, more than 90 percent of criminal convictions are the result of plea bargains. Even though the practice is accepted, it is not to be taken lightly for your case. Federal prosecutors and lawyers in most states are mandated to follow specific restrictions and rules.
In Federal Courts, the concept of plea bargaining is outlined and codified in Rule 11(e) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. However, there’s not much leeway given with regards to these agreements because of the provisions stated in the United States Sentencing Guideline (USSG). Numerous federal offenses also carry mandatory sentences, so plea bargain is not an option in most cases. Plus, many statutes cataloging federal crimes explicitly preclude the application of plea bargaining.
Other legislation that governs the federal criminal practice is detailed in Title 18 of the U.S Code, Part II. This part deals with Criminal Procedure. Meanwhile, Chapter 221 of Part II discusses arraignments plea arrangements and trial. There are also provisions addressing plea bargaining and how to negotiate it in the U.S Attorney’s Manual (USAM).
Meanwhile, the state of California forbids plea bargains under Proposition 8 or the Victim’s Bill of Rights. The law demands that there will be no plea arrangements accepted for specific crimes, which include driving under the influence, violent sex crimes, and violent felonies (typically cases where a weapon is used). However, the law permits plea bargains in cases wherein the prosecutor’s evidence is insufficient, when the material witness’ testimony is not available, or when the plea agreement will not end in any major change in the defendant’s sentence.
Differences Between Federal and State Rules in California
While the regulations for plea bargains are codified in the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, there are certain restrictions and differences between federal and state rules with regards to the practice. It is important to have an experienced criminal defense lawyer on your side to help you navigate them.
Restrictions on Plea Agreements
Federal laws prohibit lawyers from making plea deals that might cause bias in tax or civil liability without all involved agencies or divisions consenting to it. No government lawyer may demand or threaten to demand the death penalty for the express purpose of having a better negotiating position for a plea deal.
Consenting to Alford Pleas
Lawyers involved in state cases are instructed to not agree to “Alford pleas,” where are agreements where defendants maintain their innocence while pleading guilty to charges. However, federal lawyers are allowed to accept such plea bargains. But the circumstances should be deemed unusual, and it should be done with the recommendation of the assistant attorney general.
Plea Bargain Negotiations
The negotiation process for plea bargains and any applicable restrictions are similar in both federal court and state court. Keep in mind, though, that the state’s attorney general could have extra or different limits as opposed to what’s allowed state prosecutors who negotiate plea arrangements in state court.
Denying Offense Despite Guilty Plea
In situations where the defendant enters a guilty plea but denies having committed the offense, the federal lawyer should submit proof of all facts known to the government to support and show the defendant’s guilt. Similarly, lawyers are instructed to demand a specific stipulation of all the facts in the event the defendant is involved in a fraud case against the US (Medicare fraud, tax fraud) when arranging a plea deal.
Different Kinds of Plea Bargains
There are several different kinds of plea bargains that the defendant and the prosecutor can agree upon:
- Charge Bargaining: The defendant pleads guilty to a lesser charge. For instance, a DUI charge can be lowered to just “wet reckless.”
- Count Bargaining: The suspect would admit guilt to one or more charges while the state drops the other charges. For instance, a defendant charged with robbery and assault will plead guilty to robbery and the state will drop assault charges.
- Fact Bargaining: The defendant agrees to plead guilty to the charge while the state agrees to omit certain details about the case. For instance, a drug dealer will plead guilty to the charge but with the stipulation that the prosecutor will agree to charge the dealer with a lesser amount of drugs.
- Sentence Bargaining: The defendant will plead no contest or guilty of a charge in exchange for a reduced sentence. For instance, the individual will plead to a misdemeanor and the prosecutor will recommend no jail time.
If you want to make a plea agreement, it’s crucial that you have a good Los Angeles criminal defense law firm at your side. Our experienced lawyers will represent your best interest and handle tough negotiations. We have the skills and legal wisdom to negotiate a resolution that’s beneficial and acceptable to both you and the prosecutor. You can call us at (310) 997-4688 or check out our website and fill out the contact form for a free consultation.