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Understand plea bargaining before you waive your right to trial

Understand plea bargaining before you waive your right to trial

A plea bargain, or a plea agreement, is essentially a contract between the Defendant in a criminal case and the prosecuting attorney representing the State or Federal Government. This agreement is an alternative to a trial as afforded by the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Approximately 90% of all criminal cases end via a plea bargain. If every defendant in a criminal prosecution insisted on his/her right to trial, the number of criminal cases would overwhelm and choke the court system. Plea bargains create a savings of time and money, allowing the criminal court system to continue to run.

When a person enters into a plea agreement, that person is giving up their Sixth Amendment right to a trial, among other rights. If you are facing criminal prosecution and are offered a plea bargain, keep this advice in mind when making the decision to accept the “deal” or not.


Do

Do seek the advice of a reputable and experienced criminal defense attorney

When facing potential incarceration as a result of pending criminal charges, the best advice is to immediately retain the most qualified and experienced criminal defense attorney you can find. This first step will help ensure that your questions and concerns regarding a potential plea bargain are properly addressed.

Do understand the terms of the plea bargain

A plea bargain is a contract. As with all contracts, it requires the parties to do or not do certain things. Make sure that you thoroughly understand all the specific and general terms of the plea bargain before entering into it. Once a plea agreement is accepted by the court, it is very difficult to undue or vacate the plea.

Do understand the consequences of taking a plea bargain

Every plea bargain has potential consequences. This could be anything from the loss of your job to being deported if you are not a United States Citizen. If the plea requires a term or period of probation, understand the specific requirements of probation. It is also critical to understand that any violation of a criminal law while on probation could possibly violate your probation and subject you to incarceration. All plea bargains have specific terms and consequences that impact a defendant once the plea is accepted by the judge.

Do know the potential penalty if you violate the plea bargain

If your plea bargain requires that you complete a term of probation, make sure that you understand the maximum jail sentence if you violate your probation. Every criminal charge is classified into a degree level and corresponds to a maximum period of incarceration or punishment. Prior to entering into the plea, you need to know the maximum punishment that you can face. If you violate your probation or other contractual terms of your plea, you can potentially be sentenced up to the maximum sentence allowed by law for the specific charge or charges included on your plea bargain.


Don't

Do not make a rushed decision

Having a criminal charge on your record can potentially have long lasting implications. A decision of this magnitude should not be taken lightly or decided on a whim. Put careful and significant thought into your decision to take a plea bargain. Acceptance of a plea bargain forces you to waive numerous and significant constitutional rights afforded to you. For example, the right to go to trial and call witnesses to testify on your behalf, or the right to have your attorney cross-examine the witnesses put on the stand by the prosecuting attorney are absolutely waived by agreeing to a plea bargain. Make sure you discuss each and every right you are waiving with your attorney.

Do not fail to ask that one question in the back of your mind

Very similar to buyer’s remorse, you do not want to be a victim of plea bargain remorse. Make sure that you ask all your questions and get all your answers prior to asking the judge to accept the plea. Once the plea is accepted by the judge, as discussed previously, it is very difficult to change your mind.

Do not let someone pressure you into taking the plea

The decision to enter into a plea is yours and yours alone. Do not let anyone, family, friends, attorney or judge, force or persuade you to enter into a plea agreement. You have to live with the consequences of the plea bargain, so make sure the decision is yours.


Summary
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A plea bargain has long lasting implications. The criminal record established via a plea bargain is the same as if you had gone to trial and were found guilty. The criminal charge will still show on your criminal record and be counted against you if you are arrested in the future. The criminal courts are overwhelmed and could not possibly operate if all of those accused of criminal charges elected to take exercise their constitutional right to a trial. For that reason, plea bargains serve a very useful purpose; however, plea bargains can be incredibly dangerous if not fully understood.


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John S. RoirdanPartner

John is a highly experienced, AV-rated, criminal trial attorney who handles complex criminal matters. Additionally, he has extensive experience representing clients in Federal crimes and Federal legal matters such as pre-indictment investigation...

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