It is estimated that approximately 95% of guilty pleas are the result of plea bargains as opposed to a verdict reached by a jury in a trial. In most cases, unless prohibited by New Jersey law, a plea agreement will be offered to the defendant. When criminal charges threaten to destroy the lives of the defendant and their loved ones, they might wonder if a plea bargain is worth accepting.
How the Courts Decide When to Offer a Plea Bargain
In many criminal cases, the prosecution has too much evidence against the defendant. There is little possibility that the case would be dismissed. If a guilty verdict is reached, the sentence could be significant prison time. It is situations such as these where a plea bargain should be considered a valid option. Your Morristown criminal defense lawyer can help you decide if a plea bargain is right for your case, but the ultimate decision is entirely yours to make.
When a plea bargain is offered, the prosecution is required to follow specific sentencing provisions set by the New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice. Any offers that the prosecution may extend to the defendant are based on the range of sentence possibilities for the criminal charges in question. Plea bargain offers usually align with the midpoint of the range of sentencing possibilities.
If a case qualifies for a plea agreement, the judge might advise both the prosecution and the defense to consider a plea deal. Even when recommended by the courts, the judge is not obligated to accept the proposed deal. If a deal is not accepted, the prosecution and the defense can continue to negotiate an alternative deal the court might be more willing to accept.
What Role the Judge Plays in a Plea Agreement
The judge will have the final word by having full discretion over whether to accept or reject the proposed plea deal. His honor will carefully weigh factors such as the severity of the crime, the character criminal record of the defendant, why the plea is being negotiated, and if the plea deal is in the best interest of both the victim and the general public.
A defendant cannot enter a plea until the judge accepts the arrangement. When presented with a plea deal, the judge has several options. These include:
- Accepting the plea deal as presented
- Rejecting the plea agreement and supplying reasoning behind the decision to reject it
- Choosing to defer the decision until there is time to review the pre-sentencing report
- Accepting the terms of the plea agreement but rejecting the terms of the sentencing
- Recommending that the defendant pleads without a deal in place
If the judge recommends that the defendant pleads without any deal, it is usually an indication that the judge may be considering a lesser sentence than that being presented by the prosecution. Once the deal has been accepted, the defendant must immediately plead guilty to the charges as they appear in the deal.
Criteria for Plea Bargains
In addition to the sentencing provisions mentioned above, there are five criteria that must be met in order for a plea negotiation to be possible. Your Morristown criminal defense attorney can advise you as to whether you can expect an offer of a plea agreement. The five criteria are:
- The case must be prosecuted by either a municipal prosecutor, county prosecutor, or the attorney general of New Jersey.
- The defendant must have legal representation, or they must have waived their right to counsel.
- Before the plea can be made, the prosecutor must confirm that the defendant has been consulted about and agrees to such a plea.
- The matter being pled needs to be on record that it is within the municipal court jurisdiction and that it does not affect any other offenses faced at the county level without agreement from the prosecutor from the county.
- Any sentence recommended as a result of the plea agreement cannot be less than the mandatory requirements for that offense.
Types of Plea Bargains
It is important to remember that a plea bargain is an admission of the defendant’s guilt. When there are criminal charges, there are set sentencing guidelines that are applied. A plea agreement will set the punishment, potentially reduce or change the charges, or set other requirements for fulfilling the penalty requirements. There are three types of plea agreements:
- When there are multiple charges, a plea agreement may be offered for the defendant to plead guilty to one charge in order to have the other charges dismissed.
- The prosecution may offer sentencing minimums in exchange for a guilty plea.
- The prosecution might offer charges that are reduced from the original charges in order to obtain a guilty plea from the defendant.
Plea agreements are actually quite common. Sometimes, there will be other conditions such as probation or an agreement to testify against someone else. Plea agreements are less expensive than a trial for both the prosecution and the defense.
Charges Where a Plea Bargain Should Be Considered
While there are many criminal charges that have a good chance at trial with the right Morristown criminal defense attorney, if a defendant faces charges where the prosecution has a good case against them, pleading down your charge is a good option. There are also some charges where the prosecution is prohibited from negotiating a plea. There might be a plea agreement that offers you other options as well. Charges where you should always consider a plea include:
- Moving violations
- Drug possession
- Drug possession with intent to distribute
- Crimes involving threats made to another person
- Driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI)
- Assault and other violent crimes
- Domestic violence
- White collar crimes
- Internet-related crimes
- Juvenile charges
Plea agreements are most commonly offered to those who are first-time offenders. Defendants with a long history of criminal activity might not be given this option.
The Importance of Retaining a Morristown Criminal Defense Lawyer
If you are facing criminal charges, you should not go to court without understanding every aspect of the process you will be facing. You need to be aware of the mandatory sentencing requirements that would come with a guilty plea or verdict and if there is a possibility of a plea negotiation with the prosecution. You will need to be ready to prove your character, too. If you have a history of prior criminal activity, you need to know how your priors will affect your current case. If a plea deal is offered, your attorney can help with negotiations and know whether or not you should accept the offer. It is most helpful to have someone on your side who is familiar with the judges and prosecutors in the Morristown court system.
Criminal defense lawyer Gregg Wisotsky has been practicing in the Morristown area for more than 30 years. He can help you with every aspect of your criminal charges. Contact us today at 973-898-0161 if you are ready to discuss your situation.