You are charged with a crime in Alabama. Having an attorney by your side to advocate for your interests will help guide you during this difficult time.
Your attorney will advise you during the necessary communication between the prosecutor, who hopes to prove your guilt in court, and you, the defendant.
One of the most critical communications will involve plea bargaining in the case. There are pressures within the court to move along the number of cases on the docket, and because there are so many cases, prosecutors lack the time to work up each issue adequately.
Prosecutorial discretion may influence whether a plea is even offered. Still, the American Bar Association reports they are so common that some jurisdictions have not had a criminal trial in years.
A plea bargain theoretically allows the defendant to avoid a trial and a possible guilty verdict since one can never predict what a jury will decide. Research has shown that going to trial, more often than not, leads to a harsher sentence when compared to a plea.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 95 percent of cases in 2003 were resolved after a guilty plea.
It’s estimated that 90 to 95 percent of cases are resolved through a plea bargain in federal and state courts.
At the arraignment, the defendant will be charged. Prosecutors present the opportunity to plead guilty to a lesser charge if you agree to plead guilty or no contest to the charges.
The judge will then have to review the compromise before approving it.
Key Considerations in a Plea Bargain
The judge overseeing your case holds power. They can either approve or reject the plea bargain after considering some of the following:
- The nature of the charges – The seriousness of the offense makes it more likely that the defendant will plead guilty.
- The defendant’s criminal history and character increase the chance of accepting a plea.
- The circumstances of the case
- The strength of the evidence
- The pre-trial detention may affect the decision to offer a plea and to accept it.
- Legal characteristics such as a defendant’s race, gender, age, and socioeconomic status may make it less likely they will be offered a reduced plea.
- Community safety if this person is released
The plea bargain may or may not consider the crime victim’s interests.
Once the terms are acceptable, the defendant can enter their plea. It can be accepted or rejected it. If rejected, the judge usually gives a reason, which is entered into the record.
Sometimes, the defendant may feel threatened or coerced into accepting a plea. In the current system, people not guilty of a crime sometimes plead guilty.
The judge asks the defendant a series of questions to determine if their plea is voluntary and if they understand what is happening. The judge then sentences the defendant.
Remember that the judge still has discretion over sentencing even when a plea bargain is in place. The judge can impose a different sentence, even though both sides have already agreed. You have the option to withdraw a guilty plea at that time.
Ultimately, the defendant may receive a sentence to perform community service, anger management, or enroll in drunk driving courses. If the defendant does not complete these classes, the judge can impose another sentence, possibly harsher and involving jail time.
Your Alabama Criminal Defense Attorney
Attorney Jason Darley advises never to accept a plea deal without consulting a legal professional. Otherwise, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to withdraw the plea.
Mr. Darley may help you file a conditional plea, meaning you want to appeal the judge’s ruling in a pre-trial motion but do not want to face a jury. This appeal of the interim ruling will allow you to withdraw your plea. Remember, you still have rights, and a compassionate, experienced criminal attorney like Jason Darley will help you reach a more favorable plea to your interests.
Based on his assessment, he will determine the strength and weaknesses of your case and help you negotiate a plea deal most in your favor. Call Mr. Darley for a complimentary consultation at his Mobile office at (251) 441-7772 to get started.