Plea Agreements, Deals & Bargaining in Federal Court
A plea agreement or a plea deal is a bargain between a defendant and a prosecutor. In the agreement, a defendant pleads guilty in exchange for a lesser crime or jail sentence. Many federal criminal cases never make it to trial, because they end with a plea agreement.
When the prosecution enters into a plea deal, it saves time and money. A conviction is guaranteed with a plea agreement.
Why Do Defendants Take Plea Agreements?
There are many reasons a defendant decides to enter into a plea agreement. Some of the most common reasons include:
• The defendant is guilty and wants to negotiate a lesser prison term
• The defendant is innocent but does not want to take a risk by going through a trial
• The defendant can serve as a witness or cooperate with other federal cases
Plea Agreement Hazards
In federal cases, plea agreements have many hazards. A major hazard includes not having access to evidence discovery in the case. You will normally receive little in return from a federal prosecutor, compared to what you are required to give.
Unfortunately, most plea agreements include a waiver of rights to appeal a prison sentence. In this case, you are required to accept and serve any sentence the judge hands to you.
It is wise to pay close attention to the nature of the plea agreement. Within a plea bargain, a prosecutor may encourage you to admit to other crimes. By admitting to other crimes, you can potentially increase your jail sentence.
Another hazard of a plea deal is the agreement to federal sentencing guidelines. Certain crimes have a minimum mandatory sentence. A plea agreement may require that you serve the mandatory minimum sentence. A mandatory sentence may be higher than what you could receive in a trial.
What If The Defendant Is Guilty?
Understanding the tactics of Assistant U.S. Attorneys is vital. You should know that these attorneys do not waste their time filing minimal charges. Typically, multiple criminal charges are filed. Any criminal charge, that is applicable to your case will be filed by an Assistant U.S. Attorney.
The reasoning behind filing multiple charges is to increase the jail time for a defendant. When multiple charges are filed and someone is charged with multiple crimes, they are more likely to take a plea agreement.
If a defendant is guilty of several charges, a plea bargain may be chosen. For example, if a defendant is guilty of multiple crimes that hold a prison sentence of 10-years, he or she may take a plea agreement to serve 5-years.
A lighter sentence is usually the preference for a guilty defendant. A guilty defendant should aim to get the best possible prison sentence. If a defendant is guilty, the best-case scenario is to make going to trial risky for a prosecutor.
The riskier the trail, the more likely a prosecutor will present a deal. Defendants should always be guided by their attorneys to help influence the prosecutor.
What If The Defendant Is Innocent?
Of course, an innocent defendant is highly likely to want to fight their case. The average person doesn’t want to plead guilty to a crime they did not commit. Why would an innocent person plead guilty?
In some cases, a guilty plea is preferred to end a long criminal process. In other cases, going to trial may be uncertain. Sometimes, a defendant is coerced into taking a guilty plea. Consulting with a defense attorney is important. A defense attorney can help an innocent defendant make the right decisions in the legal process.
Should You Take a Plea Agreement?