The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees the accused the right to a speedy and public trial by jury in all criminal prosecutions. However, Florida permits criminal defendants to waive that right in a plea deal, in which the accused pleads guilty in exchange for a reduced sentence or charge. Most criminal cases in Florida are pled out, rather than going to trial. If you have been charged with a criminal offense, you should retain the services of an experienced defense attorney immediately.What is a Plea Bargain?
A plea deal is a contract between the accused and the government. The accused pleads guilty or no contest to a criminal charge in exchange for reduced charges or a decreased sentence. If the defendant and the prosecution can reach a plea agreement, the prosecutor can save the time and money it would take to prosecute the charges and is guaranteed a conviction. In exchange, the defendant can avoid the uncertainty of trial. Even if the he or she is innocent, juries are always a risk, and trials can go either way.Pleas
In a plea deal, the defendant will be required to plead either guilty or no contest to the charges. Pleading guilty means admitting to having committed the criminal offense. In a no contest plea, the accused does not admit or deny having committed the crime, but acknowledges that the prosecution has enough evidence to convict.Reduced Charges
In exchange for the guilty or no contest plea, the prosecution agrees either to reduce the charges or decrease the recommended sentence. For example, DUI charges may be reduced to reckless driving, which is a less serious offense with less serious penalties.
Alternately, the prosecution may offer to reduce the recommended sentence. In criminal prosecutions, the prosecutor recommends a sentence to the judge, and in a plea deal he or she may promise to recommend a less severe sentence. This may include recommending the minimum number of years in prison, or recommending probation instead of jail time.
At sentencing, the judge pronounces a sentence on the defendant, and judges are not required to go along with the prosecutor’s recommended sentence. However, judges often trust the prosecutors and will go along with their recommendations.Withdrawal
A defendant may withdraw from a plea bargain at any time before sentencing. If the court has already entered a judgment of conviction, the conviction is set aside and the defendant can then plead not guilty. But once the defendant has been sentenced, the plea is final, unless it can be appealed on the basis of the legality of the plea or of the sentence.Benefits
Generally, the biggest benefit of plea agreements is receiving a lighter sentence than what would likely have resulted from trial. Additionally, defendants who accept plea bargains may:
- Save money on the attorney’s fees that would have resulted from trial;
- Achieve a quicker resolution compared to going to trial;
- Deal with less stress than at trial;
- Avoid the publicity of a public trial; or
- Avoid deportation.
It is important to remember that the defendant will still have a criminal record for the offense.
Always consult your lawyer when considering a plea offer. If you have been charged with a crime in Florida, please contact West Palm Beach criminal defense attorney William Wallshein to schedule a free initial consultation.