What Happens When I Accept a Plea Agreement?
If you have been charged with a crime, the first thing you should do is to consult an attorney. While you have the right to a trial by jury for most criminal charges, many criminal cases end with a plea agreement between the prosecutor and the defendant.
What is a plea agreement? A plea agreement is a contract in which the defendant agrees to plead guilty to a certain charge in exchange for concessions from the prosecution. These concessions may include an agreement to seek a lower sentence or an agreement to let you plead guilty to a lesser crime than the one with which you were originally charged. However, you must understand that if you accept a plea agreement, you will be giving up constitutional rights, including the right to a trial by jury, the right not to incriminate yourself, the right to confront, challenge, and cross-examine your accusers, and in some circumstances, the right to appeal.
Plea agreements must be approved by a judge. This approval process occurs when defendant and his counsel appear in court and present the agreement that they reached with the prosecutor to the judge. The judge will ask specific questions to ensure that the defendant understands the consequences associated with a plea agreement. The judge will also make sure that the defendant enters the plea free of any open questions or reservations. Among this “check list” are the following elements:
- The defendant’s competence,
- Confirmation that the defendant has reviewed and understands the agreement,
- Confirmation that the defendant has voluntarily accepted the plea,
- The maximum penalty for the offense,
- A reading of the formal charges,
- Informing the defendant of the steps necessary for a presentencing report, and
- Setting a date for sentencing.
While in most cases, judges will trust that the prosecutor and the defendant are proposing adequate terms, the judge has the final say over the plea agreement. The judge will decide whether the agreement is sufficient or if it should be altered. If you have been charged with a crime, you should immediately contact an experienced attorney. Attorneys that work with the prosecution on a routine basis will be able to advise you if you should accept a plea agreement. While in some cases a plea agreement may be the best way to avoid more severe sentences, sometimes fighting charges and going to trial may be the only way to exit the criminal case as a free man.
Contact our offices to get the advice of an experienced attorney.
Dr. Nick Oberheiden, founder of Oberheiden P.C., focuses his litigation practice on white-collar criminal defense, government investigations, SEC & FCPA enforcement, and commercial litigation.