Gone are the days when every offender gets to stand on trial in front of the judge. Those scenes are mostly saved for TV sitcoms and celebrity trials to make news out of them. In the United States, an average of 3% of criminal cases go to court and roughly around 97% of cases are settled behind doors with plea bargains. Plea bargains have the potential to be good and beneficial to the defendant, but at the same, you must be weary of what you accept. Plea bargains have the potential to do just as much damage to you as well.
What is a Plea Bargain?
A plea bargain is an agreement between the prosecutor, the defense attorney and the defendant. Plea bargains are mostly given to the defendants in exchange for benefits, like lowering their sentencing, charges, counts or fact. You can make a plea bargain any time before the prosecutor files their charges or it can be arranged after the jury has started. You can choose to plead guilty, no contest or Alford plea, although the last one is not common. When you plead guilty, it is an admission of guilt, whereas a no contest is when a defendant is not contesting a charge. So, you are not admitting guilt, but you will take the punishment given.
The Uncommon Alford Plea
An Alford plea is a unique and uncommon type of plea used when you know you are innocent, but the prosecutor’s evidence was too strong to refute. The Alford plea is only used when the defendant can intelligently conclude that the plea is the best option. This type of plea must have the claim of innocence but also have a prosecution against them with strong indications of guilt. While it is legal to use, a judge may decide that the plea is unintelligent or inaccurate based on factors of the case and this could lead to a different verdict, maybe even increase sentencing.
A famous case that uses the Alford plea was the West Memphis Three. In this case, three teenagers were charged with murder and convicted with a death sentence, and life imprisonment. In 2010, new DNA evidence was produced and with there being potential juror misconduct, they negotiated a plea bargain. In 2011, they entered an Alford Plea, which enabled them to assert their innocence while also acknowledging that the prosecutors had enough evidence to convict them.
Other Agreements Besides Plea Bargains Can Be Available
Besides pleading guilty, you might also agree to a deferred prosecution agreement. This is an agreement that is filed with the court as a public record. This is when the prosecutor will defer the charge if the defendant agrees to fulfill specified conditions. Conditions can be fines, agreements to certain statements and abide by certain requirements. Such as no contact with the victim and counseling for a domestic violence offender. After the agreement is signed and the conditions are fulfilled, then the criminal case is conditionally dismissed. However, if the defendant fails to fulfill the conditions, then the prosecutor has the right to refile the charges and prosecute the case.
There is also a non-prosecution agreement, which is a binding agreement between a prosecutor and a defendant that is subjected to criminal investigations. This type of agreement is made outside of court; but is still a public record. They are normally used between corporations and the department of justice. The prosecutor agrees not to bring charges against the defendant if they comply with specified government demands. This type of agreement is similar to a deferred prosecution agreement, as it will allow the person to first act in good faith and comply with the terms before filing the charges.
The Different Types of Plea Bargains
When given a plea bargain with a lower sentencing, this means the prosecutor will offer a lower sentence for you to plead guilty or no contest. For example, if you have a sentencing of 2 to 10 years in prison, the prosecutor might prepare a plea for you to say you’re guilty and reduce sentencing to five years instead of the eight years you might have received. A plea bargain that might include a reduction in charges can help reduce a felony to a misdemeanor.
A count plea bargain would reduce the number of counts in the case. This involves negotiating how many charges the defendant could face. For example, if there was a robbery and someone was injured; instead of there being one count of assault and one count of theft; they would negotiate only one count of assault. And lastly, a plea bargain with a fact bargain can result in lighter sentencing if the prosecutor agrees to only a particular set of facts.
The Pros and Cons of Plea Bargaining
Plea bargains are beneficial to defendants in that they can help reduce sentencing and in some cases, the charges might be dismissed in their entirety. They also allow the defendant to know what to expect in the charges, as going to trial can be a gamble, as they don’t know if they will be convicted of a crime or not. Another pro is, your case is resolved faster as the courts are burdened with an overflow of cases, causing the waiting period for a trial to seem long to some defendants.
Some cons of plea bargains are that you forfeit your right to trial by jury. Doing so can be detrimental to your case as you can appeal to the jury’s sympathy in your trial and be able to change your conviction. Another con to plea bargains is that guilty pleas lead to conviction even if you are originally innocent. This is common to happen if someone does not have the funds to get an attorney to build a strong defense or help them understand what they are agreeing to. Some people also feel when you accept a plea bargain, you lose the right to confront the witness. And lastly, after agreeing to a plea bargain, it is difficult to appeal a conviction.
The Problem That Comes With Plea Bargains
The biggest problem that comes with a plea bargain is that innocent defendants plead guilty. And that now, despite actually being innocent, they will carry criminal convictions on their record. There is also some speculation by attorneys and judges that plea bargains lead to poor police work and attorneys that do not take proper care in preparing their cases. They believe law enforcement relies more on making deals than on the details of what happens. There are also some attorneys and judges who feel that plea bargains are unconstitutional. But if you make a plea bargain without being pressured into it, the courts have found it to remain constitutional.
Another problem with plea bargains is they can be coercive in how they get you to agree to the plea bargain. Prosecutors might say that if you don’t accept the plea, the charges can be increased or more punishment will be sought out. A coercive plea also encourages false confession, since the idea of potential prison time is scary. It is very important to have a strong defense attorney who will fight for you and your rights. The Law Office of Bryan Fagan has attorneys who believe in your innocence and your right to a jury trial.
Punitive Measures That Can Coerce You Into Plea Bargaining
Pretrial Detention is known as remand or preventive detention, it is when the courts detain someone while they await trial. This restricts the right to the presumption of innocence and the right to liberty. It is a harsh action that separates defendants from their family and friends and they are at risk of losing their job or home. This action can ruin their reputation in the community. Some defendants are in pretrial simply because they can’t afford bail or because probation, parole or officers have placed a “hold” on their release. Some prosecutors can use this as a tool to coerce a plea bargain because the defendant desperately wants to get out.
The court system also has relaxed discovery rules that can allow prosecutors to hide evidence from defendants during negotiations. It is important for your defense attorney to know everything so that they can prepare your case in the best possible way. Discovery allows the defendant or attorney access to information or evidence about their case that they cannot get on their own. Any evidence that the prosecutor possesses that could help or hurt the defendant must be shown. If the court or prosecutor denies access to the evidence, then the evidence cannot be shown during the trial. It is supposed to create a balance in the courts, but some things can be overlooked because of relaxed rules.
There are also mandatory minimum sentences and sentence enhancements that prosecutors can hold over the defendant’s head to make them feel pressured into a deal. This can pressure defendants into taking a plea that does not fully benefit them or only benefits the prosecutor. It is important to know your rights and have someone on your side who can advocate for you.
An example of coerced plea bargaining that happened in the states was the tragic 2015 Lavette Mayes case in Chicago. She was appointed a court attorney and within seconds she was given a bond of $250,000.00. She was sentenced to pretrial detention because she could not afford to pay 10% of the $250,000.00 bail just to go home with an electronic monitor. Therefore, she sat in jail for 14 months even though she was presumed innocent, trying to figure out how to pay the 10%, with the pressure of losing her two kids in an unraveling divorce.
After fighting with the court to reduce her bond, it was reduced to $9,500.00, but even then she missed out on her children’s activities and school events. After months of being worn down, she agreed to a plea bargain of guilty. And although she was free of the electronic monitor, her freedom was lost as a result of her criminal record. Housing and jobs became scarce to find and her business was lost.
These are real tools that prosecutors can use to coerce people into making plea bargains that do not benefit them. It is always best to seek experienced attorneys who can assist you, so you have the best defense against tools like this.
Violating A Plea Bargain and Its Consequences
A plea bargain is like a contract between the defendant, prosecutor and a judge. The contract can be broken, but there are consequences on either side for breaking them. If a defendant breaks the plea bargain, then the prosecutor has the right to refile the charges against them. Examples of this could be, the defendant could be lying about their identity or refusing to testify against an accomplice.
Judges can also breach plea deals by failing to disclose the terms of the plea, for example, they do not disclose the mandatory sentencing terms to the defendant. They can also breach it by giving out a different sentence than what was agreed on. The prosecutors can break a plea bargain by not holding up their end of the bargain. The defendant is entitled to a remedy even if the breach was made unintentionally or inadvertently.
Some of the remedies that can be used if there is a breach in the plea bargain are the withdrawal of the defendant’s guilty plea. This would allow for the charges to be reinstated, so the defendant can make a new plea bargain or proceed to trial. There is another remedy where if the prosecutor were to file additional charges other than what was agreed upon, then specific performance would allow for the dismissal of these charges. This also helps if the judge breached their promise to have a favorable sentencing recommendation, then specific performance allows the defendant to be resentenced by a different judge.
Need Help? Call Us Now!
Don’t forget when making or accepting a plea bargain, you have the Law Office of Brian Fagan by your side to help you get through a deal and possibly dismiss your case. Do not hesitate to call us if you find yourself or someone you know who is given a plea bargain. It is vital to have someone explain to you the consequence of the agreement and guide you in the best way possible. At the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, we have knowledgeable Criminal Defense Attorneys who are experienced in negotiating a plea bargain that will benefit you.
We give free consultations at your convenience via Zoom, phone or in person; and provide you with as much advice and information so you can have the best result in your case. Call us now at 281-810-9760
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Bryan Fagan, a native of Atascocita, Texas, is a dedicated family law attorney inspired by John Grisham’s “The Pelican Brief.” He is the first lawyer in his family, which includes two adopted brothers. Bryan’s commitment to family is personal and professional; he cared for his grandmother with Alzheimer’s while completing his degree and attended the South Texas College of Law at night.
Married with three children, Bryan’s personal experiences enrich his understanding of family dynamics, which is central to his legal practice. He specializes in family law, offering innovative and efficient legal services. A certified member of the College of the State Bar of Texas, Bryan is part of an elite group of legal professionals committed to ongoing education and high-level expertise.
His legal practice covers divorce, custody disputes, property disputes, adoption, paternity, and mediation. Bryan is also experienced in drafting marital property agreements. He leads a team dedicated to complex family law cases and protecting families from false CPS allegations.
Based in Houston, Bryan is active in the Houston Family Law Sector of the Houston Bar Association and various family law groups in Texas. His deep understanding of family values and his professional dedication make him a compassionate advocate for families navigating Texas family law.