What You Should Know About Plea Bargains
Being charged with a crime can be terrifying, and you may be wondering what you should do next. Your first step should be hiring a skilled criminal defense attorney. If you’ve been charged with a crime in Florida, call me at Venessa Bornost, P.A. in Dunedin. Whether going over your options, assisting you with gathering evidence and working closely with you to craft a defense, and representing you if your case goes to trial, I will be there to support you and fight for the best possible outcome to your case.
In Florida, you may have the option to take a plea bargain if you have been charged with a misdemeanor or minor felony. Below is some helpful information everyone should know about plea bargains.
What Is a Plea Bargain?
A plea bargain is an agreement between the prosecutor and a defense attorney that guarantees a comparatively lighter sentence for the accused if the accused pleads guilty before a criminal trial. For example, if you have been accused of theft, the prosecutor, defense attorney, and judge might come to an agreement that you should serve less time in jail in exchange for a guilty plea.
Less time in jail is often not the only option offered in exchange for a guilty plea. Prosecutors might agree to lower the charges (for example, from a felony to a misdemeanor) or they might suggest any modification of the standard sentence to the judge, including community service, probation, and attendance at substance abuse programs, anger management classes, or counseling.
How Are Plea Bargains Made?
Since the prosecutor’s goal is to obtain a guilty plea, they will often offer plea bargains for certain offenses. Plea bargains can be made at any time during a criminal case, but they will often be made before the trial.
If the prosecutor is willing to offer a plea bargain, the prosecutor and the defense attorney will meet and discuss the case. The defense attorney will review the options with the accused. If the accused decides they would like to accept the plea bargain, a hearing will be held before a judge. If the judge approves it, then the accused will plead guilty and will serve the agreed-upon sentence.
Pros and Cons of Plea Bargains
The main advantage to taking a plea bargain is the possibility of having your charges lowered or of serving a lesser sentence than you would likely receive if your case was allowed to go to trial (or if the trial was allowed to continue).
However, there are some disadvantages to entering a guilty plea. If you are innocent of the crime of which you are accused or have a good reason for having committed the crime, you should work with your attorney to collate evidence in your favor and craft a solid defense. If you have a good defense and your attorney believes that it will hold up in court, you should not enter a guilty plea, as that plea will likely remain on your record indefinitely.
Types of Plea Bargains
Charge bargaining happens when the prosecutor offers to lessen the charge if the defendant agrees to plead guilty to that lesser charge. For example, the prosecution might offer to lower your charges from drug possession with intent to sell to simple drug possession.
Sentence bargaining occurs when the sentence is ameliorated. For example, someone charged with assault might face probation instead of jail time. The prosecutor and defense can suggest the modified sentence to the judge for final approval.
In this situation, the prosecutor will eliminate certain facts from consideration in return for a guilty plea. The facts eliminated will often have increased the recommended sentence if allowed to factor in the case. For example, the prosecutor can determine that you may plead guilty to possessing a lesser amount of drugs if you really had a larger amount in your possession, and if the larger amount would have triggered a longer sentence.
Count bargaining occurs when a prosecutor agrees to remove a charge in exchange for the defendant’s pleading guilty to another charge against them. For example, the prosecutor might stipulate that you will have a robbery charge dropped if you plead guilty to an assault charge.
Pleading No Contest
You may also have the option to plead nolo contendere or “no contest.” Within the context of plea bargains, a “no contest” plea functions much like a guilty plea, in that it can be negotiated between the prosecution and defense and must be approved by a judge, and in that it usually involves serving a reduced sentence. In addition, a plea of “no contest” only means that you are not fighting the charge or punishment; it does not mean that you are pleading guilty. If you do not plead guilty in criminal court, it becomes more difficult for anyone to sue you in civil court for damages related to the crime, as they will not have access to your admission of fault in criminal court or evidence that may have come up during the trial.
What Happens if I Agree to a Plea Bargain?
To plead guilty or nolo contendere, you must waive certain rights, among them the right to a trial by jury, the right to not incriminate yourself, and the right to cross-examine those who are accusing you. You must also demonstrate to the judge that you understand that you are waiving these rights. If you agree to a plea bargain, you will plead guilty or “no contest,” and serve your lesser sentence.
The Role of the Defense Attorney
A criminal defense attorney will be an invaluable asset throughout your case. Your attorney understands how judges and the prosecution think, and will be in the best position to negotiate a plea bargain. They can also discuss your options with you if either you or your attorney has reservations about your accepting a plea bargain. In that case, your attorney will be able to help you to present the best possible defense to the court.
You Have Rights. Use Them.
As a former prosecutor, I have unique insights into what strategies the prosecution will likely utilize in your case. If you are facing a criminal charge, call me at Venessa Bornost, P.A., serving Dunedin, Florida as well as Hillsborough County and Pasco County. Don’t wait to make a difference in your case. Call today for an appointment.