If you are arrested for any reason, the process includes being told what you’ve been charged with doing. From there, you will go through an arraignment process where you can choose to plead “not guilty” and continue with a trial under the guidance of a bank fraud lawyer. You can also accept a plea agreement, in which you plead guilty and are sentenced without a trial, usually for a lighter sentence. When you choose this, you cannot change your mind and fight the charges later because you have already entered a guilty plea. In many cases, this is the best choice, but it is critical to understand the plea bargain process and what you agree to when you choose a plea bargain.
Plea Deals in Criminal Cases
Plea bargains are always relevant to criminal cases rather than civil ones. The main conceit in these deals is that the defendant gives up their right to make a case in court, instead of relying on their attorney and prosecution to work out a deal they can agree on.
The prosecutor, usually the District Attorney or a state attorney, represents the government and is responsible for enforcing laws. However, these lawyers are often overworked and have more cases than they can effectively handle. This backlog makes plea deals an appealing option for prosecutors, who are able to save time and effort while still technically “winning” their case. When seeking re-election, a prosecutor may rely on their statistics around convictions, making a guilty plea their preference.
There are additional benefits for defendants. The charges in a plea deal are usually reduced in exchange for the simplified process, meaning that sentencing is often lighter, or probation may be assigned in lieu of prison time. The process also becomes predictable, rather than risking being found guilty by a jury after an extended trial.
Plea bargains may not be favored by defendants who believe they will be found not guilty, as it guarantees a criminal record and sentencing without the ability to make a case in court. Additionally, judges do not always accept a plea bargain, leading to harsher punishment despite the arrangement.
After Accepting a Plea Bargain
If your criminal defense lawyer and a prosecutor reach an agreement on a plea deal, you should ensure it’s been written down and reviewed by all parties. There should be no errors, nothing implied, and it should read as you understood the terms verbally. Once this is finalized, the judge will review the request.
There is then a hearing for plea bargains in which the judge explains the charges to you and makes sure you understand what you are doing with your plea. If they accept your deal, they will ask you to admit guilt under oath, knowing that you waive your rights to a jury, a lawyer, a speedy trial, and witnesses. The judge needs to feel you are making these agreements of your own free will to proceed to sentencing.
Sentencing in a plea deal will depend on the charges you have plead guilty to, and may include prison time, fines, probation, and other penalties. It is important to consider any other details, such as immigration consequences, sex-offender registration, civil confinement, and the loss of licenses or benefits.
Once a plea of guilty has been entered, you cannot change your mind and reinstate these rights, unless you can later prove ineffective assistance of counsel, coercion to accept, or ignorance of the consequences.
For first-time, non-violent offenders, other options may be available, including a diversion program or deferred judgment. Deferred judgment usually involves probation instead of jail time, giving you the chance to meet the terms of probation and have charges cleared. Violating probation can lead to immediate jail time.
Deferred sentencing can allow you to avoid a conviction, avoid a felony record, and have your charges expunged or dismissed. However, probation is fairly restrictive and usually involves drug tests, random searches, and regular check-ins with a probation officer. You will be responsible for all of the costs of probation, including fees, court costs, and restitution.
Just like a plea bargain, working out terms of deferred sentencing should be done under the guidance of a professional and experienced bank fraud lawyer. That's why it's very important to know how to hire the right attorney for you.