If you have been charged with a criminal offense, your first appearance in Court will be the Arraignment. At the arraignment, you will be read your rights, the charges against you and the potential sentence. You will then have the opportunity to speak to the prosecutor and the prosecutor will offer a plea bargain.
A plea bargain is an offer that is supposedly less than the statutory sentence. The hope of prosecutors is that you will accept the lower sentence in hopes of getting a guilty plea and concluding a case. Oftentimes a plea bargain is a good option, but sometimes it is not. Let’s draw out an example so that it is easier to understand.
Donna has been charged with Hit and Run under California Vehicle Code § 20001. She has no prior criminal record. At the arraignment, the Judge reads out the code section, and her rights. The Judge also explains that in accordance with the statute, she may face a potential penalty of up to one year in jail, and/or a fine of $1,000.00 to $10,000.00.
What Donna, and most people who appear at an Arraignment do not know is that the final sentence is determined by a variety of factors, including the individual facts of the case and the person’s criminal background. So if a person has no criminal background, like Donna, and the facts of their case involve no bodily injury, or significant damage, the chances are there will be no jail sentence.
Donna is scared that she will have to go to jail or pay a fine of $10,000.00 which she cannot afford. When prosecutor’s speak to her, they offer her a fine of $3,000.00, probation for three years, restitution, and no jail time, Donna is thrilled. All Donna can focus on is the no jail time, so she eagerly accepts the offer, pleads guilty and is done with her case.
What Donna does not think about is how much restitution is, or the fact that there are alternative available to paying the fine and that the fine will be almost triple after court assessment fees. In addition, Donna did not consult with a Los Angeles Hit and Run lawyer to assess the strengths and weaknesses of her case. To determine if there are any defenses or arguments available to her that could result in a complete dismissal or even a reduction of the charges.
A Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer will know the courtroom and the Judges. They may also be aware that the Arraignment Judge is strict on Hit and Runs, but the Pre Trial Judge is not. If pleading not guilty, and being assigned a new Judge for trial could have gotten a much better deal, that is what the attorney would have recommended.
If you find yourself in a similar situation, do not blindly accept a plea bargain offer in a rush to get the case completed. Take your time and speak to a legal professional to learn your options before entering any type of a plea.