When charged with a crime, a defendant has several options. During the arraignment, which is the formal reading of charges, the defendant will be asked to “enter a plea.” This is essentially the defendant “answering” to the charges against him or her.
On the advice of counsel—whether that’s a public defender or a skilled Tampa criminal defense attorney—the defendant may plead Not Guilty, No Contest (Nolo Contendere), or Guilty. Defendants can also choose to stand mute and not enter a plea. At that point, a not guilty plea will be entered on his or her behalf. Now, most people have heard of please like “Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity” or “Not Guilty by Reason of Self-Defense,” however, these are just Not Guilty pleas which lay out the type of defense that will be offered.
There are different reasons to plead Not Guilty, No Contest, or Guilty. The most obvious one being that a defendant did or did not commit a crime and chooses to plead accordingly. In other cases, individuals may choose to plead a certain way because they hope to make or have made a plea deal.
What is a Plea Deal?
A plea deal, also called a plea agreement or plea bargain, is an agreement between a prosecutor and a criminal defendant. It requires that the defendant plead either Guilty or No Contest in exchange for leniency. This could include reduced charges or sentencing. For example, someone facing a first-degree felony charge may accept a plea deal and plead Guilty to a second or third-degree felony in order to avoid extensive imprisonment or heavy fines.
While it still results in a criminal record in most cases, a plea deal can help reduce the stress of a criminal trial, ensure that a defendant receives a fairer sentence, or even protect others who are impacted by the trial.
Who Can Make a Plea Deal in Florida?
Every day in the Florida Court System, prosecutors strike deals with defendants in order to avoid lengthy trials and close cases more quickly. Whether a prosecutor will make or agree to a plea bargain will depend on a variety of factors, including the strength of their case, the severity of the crime, and the criminal record of the defendant. Either lawyer in a case—the prosecutor or the defense attorney—can attempt to make a plea deal. However, a deal is only valid with the support of the prosecutor and the acceptance of a judge.
Are Plea Deals Available in Every Case?
A plea deal is only available when a prosecutor is willing to make or accept one. While the agreement does not have to be initiated by the prosecutor, it must be approved by the prosecutor in order to move forward.
What Are the Specifics of a Plea Deal?
Just as every case is different, so, too, is every plea agreement. What a prosecutor is willing to offer will depend on the specifics of the case, including the severity, whether violence was involved, and whether there were mitigating circumstances. In addition, a defendant’s prior criminal record will also be taken into account.
Every plea deal has one thing in common, however. Upon accepting a plea agreement, the defendant is essentially waiving their right to a trial by pleading guilty. The defendant will need to attest to the judge that they are knowingly changing their plea and accepting the agreement voluntarily.
Why Do People Accept Plea Deals?
It may seem counterintuitive to plead guilty to something rather than to fight charges. However, there are a variety of reasons that defendants opt to accept a plea bargain rather than going through a jury trial.
Defendants may choose to accept a plea deal because they feel their case is not going well, or even that their case has brought undue attention to their loved ones. Some defendants choose to plead guilty to avoid a prolonged trial, to avoid minimum sentencing guidelines, or to just put the charges behind them. Accepting a plea deal is a very personal decision that should be made with all the facts. Having a skilled Tampa defense lawyer can help make the process easier.
Can You Change Your Plea Deal?
Sometimes defendants accept plea deals and then change their minds. Ultimately, defendants have the right to withdraw a Guilty plea, even if it’s made after a plea agreement. However, for the judge to accept a motion to withdraw a previous plea, your Tampa criminal defense attorney will need to show that you have cause to do so. This means you’ll need to have a reason for why you accepted the plea agreement in the first place and why it no longer works. Essentially, you can show that you entered into the plea agreement due to error, fear, confusion, coercion, or another relevant reason.
If you feel you need to challenge your plea deal, you should do so before sentencing. It is more difficult to withdraw a plea agreement after sentencing as the bar is set much higher. At that point, you only have 30 days after sentencing to initiate the challenge, and your attorney must show that not overturning the plea agreement would lead to a miscarriage of justice. While it is possible to challenge a plea after the 30-day deadline, it becomes increasingly difficult and requires compelling evidence to win on appeal.
If you are considering a plea deal or want to withdraw a plea and you no longer have confidence in your attorney, make sure to find someone to fight for you and your future. At Mike G Law, we actively work with our clients to help them achieve the best possible outcomes for their situations. You should never feel pressured to accept a deal that can have a huge impact on your life. Instead, make sure you have the support you need to make the choice that’s right for you.
Consulting With a Tampa Criminal Defense Attorney
Charged with a crime? Take action. Don’t just accept a public defender who won’t be involved in your case. Having a quality Tampa defense lawyer by your side can be crucial for protecting your rights. Call Mike G Law and schedule a consultation today. Even if you think you would like to make a plea arrangement, consulting a Tampa criminal defense attorney is the first step in ensuring that any deal is best possible.