When lawyers for both sides negotiate a resolution of someone’s criminal charges before or even during a trial, it’s called plea bargaining. If you’re charged with a crime in southern California, a Long Beach criminal defense lawyer can explain your plea options and negotiate on your behalf.
If you are arrested and prosecuted for a crime in the state of California, you may demand a jury trial or you may enter a guilty plea, avoid a trial, and face sentencing. But when should you agree to a plea deal, and when should you reject one?
What exactly is a plea deal or a plea bargain? What are the pros and cons of accepting a plea bargain? If you’ll keep reading, you will learn the answers to those questions, and you’ll learn more about the rights of criminal defendants in the State of California.
WHAT ADVANTAGES DO PLEA BARGAINS OFFER?
As the criminal courts in California grow ever more overcrowded, cases must be moved through as swiftly as possible. A criminal trial can take days and sometimes several months, but a plea deal takes only minutes.
Juries are always unpredictable, but plea negotiating gives both the defense and the state some say over the outcome of a case.
A plea bargain lets a defendant avoid:
1. a trial that may uncover even more incriminating evidence
2. a jury that may return a guilty verdict
3. a judge who “throws the book” at defendants who are convicted
More than nine out of ten criminal convictions in the United States are determined by plea negotiations. Fewer than one out of ten criminal cases become jury trials. Both federal and state prosecutors adhere to rules that spell out how plea bargains are to be negotiated and approved.
WHAT ARE THE MOST COMMON TYPES OF PLEA BARGAINS?
Generally speaking, these are the different types of plea deals or plea bargain arrangements:
1. Count bargaining: Suspects plead guilty to one or more charges, and other charges are dropped. For instance, if a defendant is charged with assault and battery, the state may offer to drop the assault charge if the defendant pleads guilty to battery.
2. Charge bargaining: Suspects plead guilty to charges that are less serious than an original or most serious charge. For instance, the state drops a DUI charge in return for a guilty plea to a wet reckless charge.
3. Sentence bargaining: Defendants enter guilty or no contest pleas in return for reduced sentences.
WHEN DOES PLEA BARGAINING TAKE PLACE?
In California, pleas may be negotiated before, during, and even after a criminal trial. When trials produce hung juries, the attorneys may negotiate a deal rather than conduct a second trial. Deals are even sometimes made during the appeals process.
Plea bargains may be worked out even before criminal charges are filed. If you’re under investigation for a crime in southern California – or if you’re not sure – a Long Beach criminal defense attorney can learn the truth and begin negotiating on your behalf.
WHY WOULD YOU PLEAD NO CONTEST?
Everyone understands guilty and not guilty, but why do defendants sometimes enter a “no contest” plea? A no contest plea has the same effect as a guilty plea, with one important exception. No contest pleas protect defendants when civil lawsuits are filed by their victims.
A no contest plea says, “I am not admitting guilt, but I am not contesting the state’s charges.” Admitting guilt can provide evidence for a civil trial and virtually assure the success of any civil lawsuit brought against the defendant.
IF YOU’RE PLACED UNDER ARREST, WHAT SHOULD YOU DO?
After any arrest in southern California, contact and speak to a Long Beach criminal defense attorney. Do not say anything – you have the right to stay silent – and do not accept any plea deal until your defense attorney has provided you with sound legal advice.
Don’t try to act as your own lawyer. Too much is at risk, and anything you say could be used against you. Find a lawyer with plea negotiating experience. Your attorney may try to persuade the state to drop the charge. If that fails, the next step may be a motion to dismiss the charge.
When you’re innocent of a criminal charge, in most cases, you should plead not guilty and insist on a trial by jury. If you’re not guilty, your defense attorney will offer evidence and reasons to persuade jurors to acquit you of the charge.
But even if you’re guilty as charged, a good defense lawyer will almost never advise you to plead guilty before plea negotiations can take place. Let your attorney negotiate the case. He or she may advise you to plead guilty to a reduced charge after negotiating with the prosecutor.
WHEN SHOULD A CRIMINAL DEFENDANT PLEAD GUILTY?
Do not plead guilty to a criminal charge unless your defense lawyer has told you directly that a guilty plea is the best choice in your particular situation.
Your defense attorney will know if your case is eligible for one of California’s special courts like a Veteran’s Court or Drug Court. In some cases, a defendant may have to enter a guilty plea to qualify for the programs provided by these courts.
Those who complete special court programs successfully may have the charges reduced or dismissed or receive reduced or alternative sentencing.
OTHER CONSEQUENCES FOR PLEADING GUILTY
Some defendants can face serious consequences for entering guilty pleas, including:
1. Those who hold professional licenses: doctors, lawyers, teachers, pilots, and people in a number of other professions. If this describes you, a guilty plea may trigger disciplinary action by your professional licensing board and the possible loss of your license.
2. Immigrants in California with a green card, a visa, or no documentation may be targeted for deportation after pleading guilty to any crime of violence or any crime of “moral turpitude.”
If you’re a professional or an immigrant in southern California, that’s the first thing you need to tell your defense lawyer, because you probably cannot plead guilty – even to a reduced charge – to accept a plea agreement.
WHAT ELSE SHOULD YOU KNOW ABOUT PLEA NEGOTIATING?
A plea agreement must be approved by a judge because it is judges, not lawyers, who are responsible for sentencing. Judges almost always sign off on deals negotiated by prosecutors, but there is no guarantee, and judges retain the right to reject any particular plea deal.
Each case is different. This has been a general introduction to plea deals, but if you are charged with a crime in southern California, you’ll need to contact a Long Beach criminal defense lawyer for the personalized legal advice and aggressive defense representation that you will need.