By: Passalacqua & Associates

What Are the Key Considerations When Seeking a Plea Bargain in Criminal Cases?

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Should You Accept a Plea Bargain?

New York’s criminal justice system can be quite intimidating, especially if it’s your first offense. If you are charged with a crime in the Utica or Syracuse area, you must be represented by a Syracuse criminal defense attorney, and you must contact that defense attorney immediately.

As the courts in this state become even more crowded, New York’s prosecutors and judges must push cases through the court system as quickly as they can. A criminal trial can last for weeks and sometimes months, but a plea bargain takes only minutes.

Trial juries are always unpredictable, but a plea bargain gives both the defense and the prosecution more control over the outcome of a case. What exactly is a plea bargain, when should you accept one, and how do they work?

What is a Plea Bargain?

A defendant’s first court appearance is called an arraignment. At an arraignment, charges are formally read to a defendant, bail may be set, and the defendant may plead guilty, not guilty, or no contest.

A plea bargain (also called a plea deal or plea agreement) is an agreement between a prosecutor and a defendant. In a typical plea agreement, a defendant pleads guilty or no contest to at least one criminal charge in exchange for:

  1.  having one or more of the other charges dropped, or
  2.  the reduction of the charge to a less serious charge, and
  3.  alternative or reduced sentencing

Despite some restrictions, plea bargains are common. More than nine out of ten criminal convictions in the United States are the outcome of plea bargaining, so under ten percent of the charges filed by prosecutors actually lead to jury trials.

Should You Enter a “No Contest” Plea?

An important consideration in plea bargaining is deciding if you should enter a “no contest” (or “nolo contendere”) plea. A no contest plea means that while you are not pleading guilty, you have chosen not to fight the charge or charges, and you are willing to accept a conviction.

Why should a criminal defendant enter a no contest plea? If the crime victim subsequently sues the defendant in civil court, the victim then has no confession of the defendant’s guilt to offer as evidence in a civil trial.

On the other hand, a guilty plea would be an admission of guilt that a victim could offer as evidence in a civil lawsuit. Before you enter a no contest plea – or any other plea – discuss your case and your plea options with your Syracuse criminal defense lawyer.

How Does Plea Bargaining Work?

Plea bargaining happens when a prosecutor and your criminal defense lawyer discuss settling your case without a trial. A plea deal may be agreed upon at any point in the case, from even before your arraignment up until a trial jury reaches a verdict.

Prosecutors are not obligated to offer plea deals. Whether your lawyer is allowed to negotiate a plea deal is entirely up to the prosecutor’s discretion. When both sides agree to a deal, that deal must be approved by the judge. Only a judge can make a binding decision about your sentence.

What Else Should You Consider?

If you and your lawyer are allowed to negotiate a plea bargain, be careful. Many defendants choose a plea deal instead of a trial because a plea deal is faster and you can be certain of the outcome. However, you must fully understand the terms, conditions, and consequences of a plea bargain. When you accept a plea bargain, you will be waiving some of your rights, such as:

  1.  your right to a trial by jury
  2.  your right to confront your accuser
  3.  your right to avoid self-incrimination

You’ll have to confess, publicly in a court of law, that you are guilty of a crime, and you’ll need to understand that your conviction creates a criminal record that can impact your employment, your ability to find housing, and your immigration status if you are not a United States citizen.

Depending on the nature of the crime and the details of your conviction, a number of your other rights may be affected, including your right to vote, to own a firearm, to adopt a child, to serve on a jury, to run for public office, or to receive public benefits or a student loan.

The Choice is Yours

The final choice to reject or accept a plea agreement is a defendant’s decision alone. However, you absolutely must discuss the details, advantages, and disadvantages of any plea bargain offer with your Syracuse criminal defense attorney.

In fact, you should reach out to a criminal defense attorney at once if you are charged with a crime or if you learn that you are under investigation for a crime. If you are convinced that you are innocent, you should almost always reject any plea deal and insist on a jury trial.

If the case goes to trial, your attorney will protect your rights, cast doubt on the state’s evidence, explain to the jurors why you are innocent, and ask those jurors to find you not guilty. But how can you find a Syracuse criminal defense lawyer who will fight effectively for your acquittal?

Why Choose Passalacqua & Associates?

When your future and your freedom are at stake, the defense attorney you choose can make the difference. The award-winning legal team at Passalacqua & Associates has more than three decades of experience representing those charged with crimes in the Utica and Syracuse areas.

We understand what it takes to win an acquittal at trial – and we frequently win acquittals for our clients – but if the prosecution’s case against you is strong and persuasive, one of our criminal defense attorneys will seek to negotiate the best possible plea agreement on your behalf.

In the Utica or Syracuse area, if you are charged with a criminal offense – now or in the future – contact Passalacqua & Associates immediately by calling 315-277-3548 to schedule a no-cost, in-depth case evaluation and to begin preparing a strategy for your defense.