Criminal Plea Deals and Probation Pleas Deals and Probation Purpose: The majority of criminal cases get resolved in plea deals, meaning that very few cases get dropped or go to trial The reason for this are many. The criminal justice system is like a meat processing plant The judge and the prosecutors are interested in getting cases resolved quickly and freeing up the calendar, because there are always more people getting arrested There is not enough time or resources to have trials for everyone, or even a small percentage of them It can take months or sometimes over a year for a person to get their day in court So judges are in favor of plea deals because they don’t want their case calendar to be full Prosecutors like plea deals also Plea deals mean they don’t have to work up for a trial Plea deals mean their workload goes down As a result, Plea deals often have sentences that are much better than trial results Judge’s will penalize defendants that make them have to have a trial Most criminal charges have minimum sentences and maximum sentences, and the maximum sentences can be heavy Many judges are known for automatically giving maximum sentences if a case goes to trial That’s because the judge wants people scared to go to trial so that they will be more likely to take a plea deal and make the case go away It’s not fair, but the criminal justice system is a spider’s web and many get caught in it everyday But Plea deals are often a good thing If there is strong evidence against you, there is no point going to trial and getting a worse sentence But there are consequences to taking a plea deal that you should know. Accepting a plea usually means admitting that you are guilty in order to get the sentence that we negotiate It is a bad thing to get have a criminal record, and a worse thing to have a felony record If you are pleading to a felony count, there are many consequences You can never vote You can never have a gun Most employers will never hire you because all applications ask if you have a felony, and it will pop up on every background check You will no longer qualify for many government assistance programs Worse, once you have a felony, if you ever get a second felony, the law requires the judge to give you the maximum sentence automatically It’s a law called a recidivist law We’ve seen many people plea out to felony earlier in life, just to make the case go away, only to later get another charge and be facing serious consequences Sometimes because of the nature of a case, there’s no way to avoid getting a felony charge, but we try to do what we can to avoid it. (Conditions of the plea) We don’t have to just accept what the prosecutor’s offer Depending on your situations, sometimes we’re able to negotiate felony’s down to misdemeanors Sometimes we can negotiate full probation, or partial probation But know this, if you accept a plea deal, you are admitting that you are guilty of a crime. Pleas Deals can come in many forms They can involve straight jail time, straight probation, or a mixture of both If you are charged with more than one thing, each charge will get its own sentence, but those sentences can sometimes run at the same time, or they can run one after another If they run at the same time, it’s called concurrent. But if they run one after another, they are called consecutive. So say you had three charges and each of them had a sentence of one year. If those sentences ran concurrently, they’d all run at the same time, so you’d only serve one year But if those sentences ran consecutively, then after you served the first charge for a year, you’d then have to serve the year for the second charge, and then another year for the third year So concurrent means, the sentences run together while consecutive means one after another. Sometimes there are creative solutions that can be done instead of straight jail time There is weekend jail, where you serve your time on the weekends. This is usually done so that a person can keep their job Another option is work release This is where you are in jail, but are released to go to work Usually the state provides the transportation to get to work This is usually a good option if a person is homeless and wants to start getting back on their feet while they are serving their sentence Plea deals can also involve conditions, like having to participate in a drug/alcohol class, having to stay away from certain locations, or having no contact with certain people. Plea deals can involve fines or community service. Sometimes the judge will allow the client to choose between a fine and community service, like a $1000 fine or 100 hours of community service If the crime involved stealing something or damaging something, the plea can include having to pay money back, which is called restitution All plea deals include paying a $50 attorney fee And if the plea deal includes probation, there will be a monthly probation fee that is currently $32 Sometimes there are some other options than simply admitting guilty to a crime, but they depend on your type of case. I’ll mention some options, but keep in mind that some may not apply to your case. One option is pre-trial diversion/intervention program, also known as PDIP This is a great offer if the client actually did what they were accused of. It’s great because it keeps everything off of the client’s record If the state offers PDIP, the client won’t plead guilty to anything Instead, the client will enter the PDIP program which will cost a little over $500 and will require the client to go through their program This usually gets offered if the charges are not too serious and there is no prior criminal record If the prosecutor offers PDIP, then they will see if the client qualify for the program If they qualify, then they pay the fee, and then complete all the requirements of the program Once the program is done, all charges are dropped. Another option is called 1st offender If the client never had a felony before, we can choose 1st offender which will keep the client from having a felony record 1st offender usually results in straight probation for a period of time depending on the case You can only do 1st offender once. The plus side of 1st offender is that the client does not become a felon The bad side of 1st offender is that if the client violate their probation, the judge can make you have to go to jail for however long those charges would normally be. For example. If the charges have a maximum of 20 years, maybe the prosecutor will give us an offer of five years probation under the 1st offender That way, after 5 years, the probation would end, and there would have no felony record. But if at some time during those five years, there is a probation violation, the judge could bring the client back and make them serve whatever is left of the 20 years in prison. Because of that risk, we try to get the charges knocked down to misdemeanors instead of taking first offender But if we can’t negotiate down to misdemeanors, then we recommend people take first offender so that they do not get a felony record If you get a felony record, there are many consequences Your felony record will pop up on every job interview you ever have and most employers will not even consider felons Your felony record will disqualify you from many government services and benefits, and you’ll never get them back You will never be allowed to vote And you can never have a gun in your possession Also, there are laws that if you get a third felony charge, you will be called a “recidivisit” which means the state can lock you up for the rest of your life We’ve seen many times where someone got locked up for the rest of their life because they pled out to stupid felonies early in life. So if it’s at all possible, we want to keep you away from any felonies. If these are drug charges, First Offender is called something different. It’s called Conditional discharge and it works just like First Offender. Another option is to plea nolo contendere A nolo plea can only be used for felonies that are not capital felonies. A capital felony is one that can be punished by death or life imprisonment, like murder. If the client never had any previous capital felony charges, we can ask for a nolo plea Nolo means that the client is not pleading guilty at all, but the judge can sentence them as if they were guilty It’s the judge’s choice to accept a nolo plea, so it’s not something we can force to happen like 1st offender. If we can make a strong argument that this charge is unfair and will hurt the client’s future, it’s something that we can sometimes get. The nolo plea doesn’t make the sentence be any lighter, but it keeps the conviction off of their criminal record. The attorney will discuss with you if this is a good option. The last thing I’d like to talk about is probation Most people believe probation is great, and it is good in that it is better than sitting in prison But probation is not a gift, it is a spiders web that traps many people If someone is on probation, any type of misdemeanor or crime can violate that probation If the probation gets violated, the judge can make the client spend the rest of their probation time in prison So probation is not something that is guaranteed The other danger is that it takes almost nothing to violate probation Normally, if someone commits a crime, they get a right to a trial, and the charges must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. But that is not the case if the person is on probation The judge will listen to the case, not a jury. And the judge will make a decision based on whether they think it happened or not. The legal standard the judge will use is called “the preponderance of the evidence” which means, more right than wrong So if they believe there is slightly more reason to believe the client did it, then that’s enough to make the client face the rest of the probation time in prison And you can guess how often judges will believe the defendant is guilty. Almost 100% This is dangerous because many people get their probation revoked because of a false accusation All it takes is an angry boyfriend or girlfriend to make a false accusation of getting hit and that will be enough to send someone off to prison All it takes for the client to be caught with a friend, and the friend happen to have drugs on them, and the judge will believe the client was in on it, and it’s off to prison If you get on probation, not only do you have to make sure you stay out of any trouble, but you need to cut people out of your life who might invite trouble or make up trouble for you. There are some other side effects that come along with probation Usually, it means you give up your 4th amendment right This means you can be searched at any time and for no reason at all That includes your house or your car It also usually means they can require random drug or alcohol tests And they’ll usually have to report to a probation officer on a regular basis Violating any of these requirements can put the client at risk of serving the rest of their probation time in prison. And every probation violation becomes another part of the client’s criminal record, which is never a good thing There are some ways to make probation end early If someone is on probation for 3 years with no violations, sometimes we are able to get the probation cancelled at that time. Bottom line is that probation is not vacation. It’s a good alternative to being in jail, but know that it can also be trapdoor that easily leads to prison The last thing to keep in mind is that we do not get to control what plea deals are offered by the prosecutors Your attorney knows the prosecutor that you’re dealing with, knows what types of plea deals they normally make and know how far they can be pushed They know when asking for something to low will not only be rejected, but will tick the prosecutor off and make them think that the client isn’t taking this situation seriously Try to remember that the prosecutor almost always believes the client is guilty And it doesn’t matter how much the client knows they are innocent, that will not change the prosecutors mind Sometimes, the attorney knows that the only way to get a better plea deal is to make the prosecutor work for it, or to let the case sit on the calendar longer and get closer to trial It is frustrating to not get the plea deal that you want, but this is the criminal justice system and it is not known for being fair Some clients or their loved ones get mad at the attorney because of how bad the offer is from the prosecutor But the attorney can’t hypnotize the prosecutor or use some jedi mind tricks to make the prosecutor come down if the prosecutor doesn’t want to We can only try to scare them with trial or punk them down by threatening to make them have to do more work. Your attorney should be able to explain where your case stands and what will probably be a reasonable offer to accept or push for.