When charged with a crime, a defendant agrees to several options in court. During the arraignment, which is the formal reading of criminal charges, the defendant will be asked to “enter a plea.” This is essentially the defendant “answering” to the charges against him or her and is similar to sentence bargaining with a judge in court.
On the advice of counsel—whether that’s a public defender or a skilled Tampa criminal defense attorney—the defendant pleads Guilty, Not Guilty, or No Contest (Nolo Contendere). Defendants can also choose to stand mute and not enter a plea bargaining process. At that point, a not guilty plea will be entered on behalf of the defendant. Most people have heard of pleas such as “Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity” or “Not Guilty by Reason of Self-Defense.” These pleas are just Not Guilty pleas that lays out the type of defense that will be offered and may determine criminal conviction prison sentence. In court, every defendant has a right to plead guilty or not.
In criminal trials, there are different reasons to plead Guilty, Not Guilty or No Contest. The most obvious one is that a defendant did or did not commit a crime and chooses to plead accordingly. In other cases, a defendant may choose to plead a certain way because they hope to make or have made a plea bargain.
What is a Plea Deal or a Plea Bargain?
In court, a plea bargain, also called a plea agreement or plea deal, is an agreement between a prosecutor and a criminal defendant that can lead to a lighter sentence. Plea bargains require that the defendant agrees to plead Guilty or No Contest in exchange for leniency during sentence bargaining. This could include reduced criminal conviction charges or sentencing. For example, someone facing a first-degree felony charge may accept a plea deal and the defendant admits the guilt or pleads 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, plea deals can help a defendant to reduce the stress of a criminal trial, ensure that a defendant receives a fair sentencing hearing in court, or even protect others who are impacted by the trial.
Who Can Make a Plea Deal in Florida?
Every day in the Florida Criminal System, prosecutors arrange plea agreements with defendants in order to avoid lengthy trials and close criminal cases more quickly. Whether a prosecutor will make or accept a plea bargain will depend on a variety of factors, including the strength of their criminal case, the severity of the criminal charges, and the criminal record of the defendant. Either lawyer in a case—the prosecutor or the criminal defense attorney—can attempt to make a plea deal. However, in court plea bargain negotiations are only valid with the support of the prosecutor and the acceptance of a judge.
Are Plea Deals Available in Every Case?
In most criminal cases, a plea deal or charge bargaining is only available when a prosecutor and a judge are willing to make or accept plea negotiations. 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 Plea Deals?
In Florida’s criminal justice system, there is a vast majority of criminal cases. Just as every case is different, so, too, is every plea bargain. What a prosecutor agrees to or 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 as well as the opinion of the judge.
Upon accepting a plea agreement by the defendant in court, the defendant is essentially waiving their right in a trial to the judge 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 in court to something rather than fight criminal charges. However, there are a variety of reasons that a defendant opts to accept a plea bargain rather than going through a jury trial process.
Many defendants agree to plead guilty because they feel that their criminal case is not going well, or even that their criminal case has brought undue attention to their loved ones. Some defendants plead guilty to avoid a prolonged jury trial, to avoid a minimum prison sentence or maximum sentence guidelines, or to just put the charges behind them. Accepting a plea deal or a plea bargain is a very personal decision that should be made with all the facts. Having a skilled Tampa criminal defense attorney can help make the process easier.
Can You Change Your Plea Deal or Plea Bargain?
Sometimes defendants accept a plea deal and then change their minds. Ultimately, defendants have the right to withdraw from the negotiated plea, even if it’s made after accepting a plea bargain. 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, in the court, you can show that you entered into the plea agreement or plea bargain due to error, fear, confusion, coercion, or another relevant reason.
If you feel you need to challenge your plea bargain in court, 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 the criminal justice system. While it is possible to challenge a plea deal after the 30-day deadline, it becomes increasingly difficult and requires compelling evidence to win on appeal.
If you are considering a plea deal, plea bargain, or want to withdraw a plea and you no longer have confidence in your defense attorneys, make sure to find someone to fight for you and your future prior to the proceedings in court. 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 plea 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 in court. 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 the best possible.