The system is set up in in a way that the vast majority of federal cases filed are resolved by way of a plea agreement. The federal government will not file a criminal case unless they really believe that they have the evidence to prove the case.
You're dealing with a system where they're putting in months or even years of investigation to find solid evidence, so it makes sense that most of the cases are going to be resolved by way of a plea agreement.
In a lot of federal cases, the prosecutors are also trying to get a person who's charged to cooperate with them and give them information about other people who may be involved. Plea agreements are simply part of the federal system. Negotiating with prosecutors is one of the things I've been doing for the past 25 years.
You want to make sure that your client is informed of the ramifications of signing a particular plea agreement, so they don't put themselves in a position where they're surprised when the judge lays down their sentence. Our federal criminal defense lawyers are providing an overview below.
Are There Different Types Of Federal Plea Agreements?
There are different types of federal plea agreements. The agreement is going to depend on many factors, like the type of crime that you are charged with, which will determine your base offense level. There are other factors that can aggravate your base offense level and cause you to face a higher sentence.
For example, in a drug case, the amount of drugs can aggravate the amount of time you're facing. There are also mitigating factors that a judge will look at, like whether or not you have certain family circumstances that should be considered.
Your best bet is to get a seasoned attorney. They can explain to you how things work, what the best procedure is for you and your particular case, and how any plea agreement is going to impact you. Your attorney is going to be in the best position to give you a good feel for that and help you make the right move, so that you can end up with the lowest possible sentence.
In a federal case, if the prosecutors charged you with a crime, they're not going to dismiss it. You're at a crossroads of whether to fight the case to trial and let a jury decide or accept a plea agreement. If they have good evidence against you, a jury trial is a very bad move.
You're going to get a much higher sentence than if you would have entered into a plea. If you can't win the case at a jury trial, the only option left is to plea bargain with them, admit the charges, and let the judge set the parameters of what your sentence is going to be.
You're going to want to enter into a plea agreement with the prosecutors and utilize the different options that are available to you to try to get the lowest possible sentence, like what is known as downward departures.
These consider whether there were certain mitigating factors that relate to you and your particular case. Once you have an attorney, give them all the information and don't put a spin on it. Let them explain to you what possibilities there are and what moves you should make.
Will My Punishment Be Worse If I Am Found Guilty?
It's almost inevitable that you're going to get a worse punishment if you are found guilty rather than taking a plea agreement. The reason for this is acceptance of responsibility. There are three levels that can be taken off your sentence.
If you go to trial and you lose, the government is going to have a strong argument that you didn't accept responsibility and therefore, you do not get those three levels taken off. Also, the judge will hear all the evidence against you at the trial and if you're found guilty, he may make a determination that you deserve a serious punishment. If you would have just taken the plea agreement, the judge wouldn't hear every single detail related to your offense and wouldn't view you in such a negative light.
You have much more control if you enter into a plea agreement. However, even with the plea agreement, the sentence will be up to the judge. No one can tell you for certain what your sentence is going to be in a federal case.
Once you enter into the plea agreement, the judge makes the final decision and it's based on a number of different factors, including your criminal history, what you ended up pleading to and how they view these type of crimes, whether there are any downward departures that you've used to mitigate your sentence, and a whole host of other factors.
When you get indicted, you show up in court. Hopefully, you're able to get some sort of a bond status. Your attorney gets all the evidence there is available related to your case and goes over it with you. Once you both go over all the evidence, your attorney will talk to the prosecutor and decide what the prosecutor views as the value of the case.
You can then begin to negotiate with the government and explain your situation. You can cooperate with the government by helping them catch other people or get information related to the offense. This can later be used to benefit you and your potential sentencing. There are many things that can be done prior to entering into a plea with the government but all of these things must be done with the guidance of your attorney.
Are Plea Bargains Generally Available In All Federal Criminal Cases?
The government has filed a federal case against you. One of the most common ways that these federal cases are resolved is by way of a plea bargain between you, the government, and your attorney. In nearly every federal case, you're going to be able to plea bargain with the government. It'll be done through your attorney. A lot of it involves you investigating the case, understanding it, and then showing the government some mitigating circumstances.
Your attorney will go over the plea agreement with you and you will either accept the plea agreement or you will just reject it out right and take the case to trial, or file a motion, if it's applicable to your case. Or, you can counter the plea agreement. This should be done with the guidance of your attorney, after you have been honest with your attorney and let them know what your case is all about and which defenses you may have.
In my experience, when federal prosecutors offer a plea agreement, it is usually accompanied by a letter, which includes a deadline. I've gotten the deadline extended numerous times for my clients. As long as I can give them a good reason why I need more time to talk to my client about it, they are pretty reasonable.
However, they will only give a certain amount of time for the defendant to decide whether or not they're going to enter into a plea bargain. If you don't accept it, then they're going to have to get the case ready for trial and it's their responsibility to prove all the elements of the charges against you and get all the witnesses together.
Will Pleading Guilty Exclude Chances Of An Appeal?
There are stipulations that are put in most plea agreements that take away a lot of a criminal defendants' rights in a federal case, as it relates to a potential appeal. If your attorney is not effective and misses something in your case, however, that right can't be waived.
If the judge sentences you outside the statutory scheme related to the charges you plead to, that could certainly be appealed. Many plea agreements state that as long as the judge sentences within the guidelines of the base offense level, you can't appeal it.
It's usually laid out pretty clearly in the agreement which rights you may or may not have related to an appeal. If you enter into a plea agreement, you'll sign it in front of the judge the judge is going to ask you a lot of questions to make sure you understand it.
You're not usually going to be in a good position to challenge any sentence that a judge hands out to you or to withdraw your plea. Before you make the decision to sign a plea agreement, you should be sure that it's what you want to do, after being advised by your attorney.