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.
Plea bargains are often desirable for both sides, as they can be hammered out in several hours, and both the prosecution and the defense have input about the terms and result.
Before you agree to a plea bargain, it is important to know that there are differences between the ways in which these deals are handled on a federal versus a state level. Make sure you understand the regulations that bind your potential plea deal before finalizing anything.
What Exactly Is a Plea Bargain?
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 upon which all parties can agree.
Plea bargaining is a complex process, but pleas help 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.
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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. 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 a 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 US Code, Part II. This part deals with Criminal Procedure. Meanwhile, Chapter 221 of Part II discusses arraignments, plea arrangements, and trials. There are also provisions addressing plea bargaining and how to negotiate it in the US Attorney’s Manual (USAM).
Meanwhile, the state of California forbids plea bargains for certain crimes under Proposition 8 or the Victim’s Bill of Rights. The law demands that there will be no plea arrangements accepted for specific crimes. These crimes include driving under the influence, violent sex crimes, and violent felonies (typically involving the use of a weapon).
However, the law permits plea bargains in certain cases. Plea bargaining is allowed if the prosecutor’s evidence is insufficient, the material witness’ testimony is not available, or the plea agreement will not result in any major change in the defendant’s sentence.
Even in cases where the law supposedly bans plea bargaining, it is still a frequent practice. That’s because the ban on plea bargaining is restricted to certain points of the criminal proceedings. Plea bargaining is still possible after an arraignment, before a preliminary hearing, or during an investigation by a grand jury.
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 regard 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 the consent of all involved agencies or divisions. 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 not to agree to “Alford pleas.” These pleas are agreements where defendants maintain their innocence while pleading guilty to charges.
However, federal lawyers are allowed to accept such plea bargains. In these cases, though, the circumstances should be deemed unusual. They should only be accepted 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 from 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.
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Different Kinds of Plea Bargains
There are several different kinds of plea bargains upon which the defendant and the prosecutor can agree. In many cases, multiple types of plea bargains are likely to be combined.
In charge bargaining, the defendant pleads guilty to a lesser charge. For instance, a DUI charge can be lowered to a “wet reckless” charge. This agreement gives the prosecution a win and ensures punishment for the defendant while allowing the defendant to avoid additional complications that may come with the stronger charge.
Pleading guilty to a misdemeanor to avoid a possible felony conviction can keep many of your rights intact that you might otherwise be risking.
In count bargaining, the suspect would admit guilt to one or more charges while the state drops the others. For instance, a defendant charged with robbery and assault will plead guilty to robbery, and the state will drop assault charges.
Having a violence-related charge dropped can be very beneficial when a defendant has their criminal record checked down the line for whatever reason.
Fact bargaining is a less common type of plea bargain. With this type of bargaining, the defendant agrees to plead guilty to the charge while the state consents to omit certain details about the case.
For instance, a drug dealer will plead guilty to the charge with the stipulation that the prosecutor will agree to charge the dealer with a lesser amount of drugs.
With 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 guilty to a misdemeanor, and the prosecutor will recommend no jail time.
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Pleading “No Contest”
When agreeing to a plea bargain, it is always to the benefit of the defendant to enter a plea of “no contest” rather than guilty. While a no contest plea will still result in a conviction, it can protect you in other ways.
If the victim of the crime decides to sue the defendant in civil court, a “no contest” plea in criminal proceedings will not hurt the accused. On the other hand, if you plead guilty to criminal charges, the victim could use that plea as an admission of guilt in a civil lawsuit.
Contact a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer Today
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. The experienced lawyers at the Simmrin Law Group will represent your best interest and handle tough negotiations. We have the skills and legal wisdom to negotiate a resolution that is beneficial and acceptable to both you and the prosecutor.
You can give us a call or fill out our online contact form to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation.