The plea process is an essential part of the criminal justice system during which the defendant enters a plea in response to the charges against him. In essence, a plea bargain is an agreement between the prosecutor and defense attorney where the defendant pleads guilty or nolo contendere (no contest) to a specific charge for a reduced or alternative sentence.
However, obtaining a plea bargain can be difficult for those representing themselves. Your best chance of receiving a fair offer is to hire a California criminal defense lawyer. They can protect your best interests and negotiate the terms of the bargain on your behalf.
Why Do Prosecutors Seek Plea Bargains?
People are charged with crimes every day, placing a serious burden on the California court system. To resolve this, prosecutors may offer a plea deal to lessen the load on judges. They may also offer a deal because they discover a witness isn’t liable or they don’t have strong evidence to succeed at trial.
Prosecutors have many options they can offer in deals, including:
- Reducing a felony to a misdemeanor
- Reducing a misdemeanor to an infraction
- Pleading to one charge and dropping the rest
- Reducing a sentence based on the individual’s lack of criminal record
- Plea to certain charges in exchange for testifying against other defendants
- Alternatives to jail time, such as rehabilitation programs or community service
The ability to avoid jail, or spend less time there, is a motivating factor in accepting deals. Similarly, your defense attorney may suggest you take the deal, especially if they believe you can face harsher penalties if the case goes to court.
When Are Plea Deals Negotiated?
Plea deals can happen in different stages depending on the charge. For misdemeanors, bargains are worked out during the pretrial conference or the arraignment. However, in felony cases where a plea bargain is allowed, the prosecution and defense can agree to a deal at any point during the criminal proceedings.
If there is a hung jury, both parties will typically resolve the matter as a plea bargain instead of retrying the case, which can be costly and time-consuming.
Crimes That Cannot Offer a Plea
Certain California felonies prohibit the use of plea bargaining. These include:
- First-degree burglary
- Felonies involving firearms
- Felony DUI
As with most aspects of the law, there are exceptions. A prosecutor can still offer a plea when there is not enough evidence to prove the state’s case, witness testimonies cannot be obtained, or a reduction in charges would not result in a substantial change in sentencing.
Do Judges Have to Approve of the Deal?
Judges will meet with both parties in their chambers to discuss plea deal options, and they will generally assess the evidence the prosecution has and the defenses your attorney has. Judges can present their own opinions on what they feel is a fair offer based on the facts. Once both parties agree on the terms of a plea deal, the court has to approve it. In rare situations, a judge can reject an agreement made by the prosecution and defense.
Pleas Must Be Voluntary
Once you accept the plea deal, the court will ask you questions to make sure you are entering the agreement voluntarily and only based on the arrangements in the plea. The court will also make sure you know that by accepting the deal, you waive the right to:
- A trial by 12 of your peers to determine guilt
- Subpoena witnesses
- Cross-examine witnesses against you
- Not testify or offer evidence
Depending on the situation, they will also ensure that you know the immigration consequences a plea deal might have to non-U.S. citizens, such as deportation.
Secure Your Future with a Skilled Defense Attorney
When you’re facing criminal charges, you must seek a competent criminal defense attorney. Attorney Dod of Dod Law is a seasoned attorney with more than 17 years of experience, and you can be confident he will obtain the most favorable deal for your case.
However, he may suggest taking your case to trial if he feels there is enough evidence to prove your innocence. Taking a plea deal or bringing your case to court is entirely your choice, and Attorney Dod will make sure to present you with all of the facts. To schedule an appointment, call (619) 814-5110 or complete an online contact form today.