Articles Posted in Plea Bargaining

Let’s start with the basics first; what is a plea bargain? A plea bargain is an offer made by prosecutors in a criminal defense case. The offer purports to be less than what a person who has been charged might get if they were to proceed to jury trial. Prosecution offers a possibly more generous sentence in exchange for a person to enter a plea of guilty without proceeding to trial. Each party benefits, the person being charged does not have to take a gamble in the possible sentence, and the prosecutors get a guilty plea without expending too much of the court’s resources and closing a case.

The prosecutor’s offer, or plea bargain, is not always a bad idea. Sometimes it is a good decision, and one that would ultimately be in the person’s best interest. However, to properly assess whether a plea bargain is in your best interest, it is highly recommended that you consult with a Los Angeles Criminal Defense attorney before entering any type of plea. To be able to assess a plea bargain, the attorney needs to know the tendency of the Judge, the prosecutor’s usual behavior and offers, the Judge’s in the other courtrooms that would hear the case, the consequences outlined by the statute, and of course knowledge of the criminal justice system. To make better sense out of this, let’s consider an example.

Let’s consider Danny. Danny has been arrested for driving under the influence. His case is being heard in a Los Angeles Courthouse. Danny hires a Los Angeles DUI Lawyer, who appears in that specific courthouse on many cases. Danny has no prior criminal record, his blood alcohol level was barely over the legal limit, and he had changed a lane without signaling, prompting officers to pull him over. Danny’s lawyer knows that this is a weak case for prosecutors, from his extensive experience. However, he knows that the Judge in the arraignment court is tough, and allows little, if any leniency on cases. Using his Judgment, Danny’s attorney pleads not guilty and pushes the case for pretrial. When a case moves past arraignment, the first appearance in a case, it is set for pre-trial in another courtroom. Danny’s lawyer knows that in the pre-trial courtroom, the Judge has more room for leniency and is more willing to dismiss or reduce charges. Thus by pushing the case out to pretrial, Danny gets a much better offer from prosecutors, better than that of the arraignment court. At the pretrial, Danny is advised to enter a plea of guilty to the reduced charges that are offered. His case is then concluded.

If you have made the decision to hire a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney to represent you on the criminal charges against you, you have made the best decision for your future. A Criminal Lawyer has extensive experience and knowledge with the court system and with the prosecutors working on your case. This makes the whole process efficient, and stress free.

If you have an attorney representing you in Court, and you are being charged with a misdemeanor, you do not have to be present in Court. Your attorney can appear on your behalf. The first appearance in Court is called the Arraignment. As stated, you do not need to appear at the Arraignment if you have an attorney representing you. If you do not have an attorney representing you, you will need to appear in Court to defend yourself. If you do not appear timely, then a bench warrant will be issued for your arrest. You will then not only face the charges you were called into Court for, but will also have to defend yourself against the bench warrant and Failure to Appear charges.

Your attorney will talk to you in depth regarding what will happen at your Arraignment, whether you choose to appear or not. If you have any questions, it is a good idea to speak to your attorney about your questions so that you fully understand the process.

When you have been arrested or cited for an offense, the citation you receive will state a date and time that you have to appear in Court. That date is the arraignment date. At the arraignment date you will receive a plea bargain from the prosecutor. A plea bargain is a complete offer, and if you agree to the plea bargain you will enter a plea of guilty at the arraignment, concluding your case.

Before you accept a plea bargain there are many things you should take into serious consideration.

  1. Is the offer reasonable?

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.

When you have been issued a citation upon arrest, you are ordered to appear in Court, on or before the date stated on the citation. This is not voluntary, or optional. It is a mandatory order and one subject to consequences if you fail to appear. The consequences will differ depending on the circumstances of your case, and whether you are represented by an attorney or not.

If you are represented by an attorney, and the charge against you is a misdemeanor, then the attorney can appear on your behalf under California Penal Code §977. If you are not physically in court, and only your attorney is, then there will be no consequences. You always have the option to appear, but oftentimes most negotiations are done between the attorneys. Attorneys are also not allowed to enter a plea on your behalf so you will not be pushed into a decision that you have not discussed and confirmed with the attorney.

Let’s walk through a typical arraignment where the party is represented. This is a general arraignment, and is not always the case.

When you have been charged with a criminal offense, you will be given the opportunity to appear in court before a criminal Judge and have your case heard. This hearing will be referred to as an Arraignment. At the Arraignment, several things will happen:

  1. Your rights will be read to you
  2. The potential sentence will be read to you

It was previously discussed that Donna is facing petty theft charges in criminal court. In Part 1, she had asked for a continuance from the Judge based on the fact that she wanted an attorney to represent her.

The right to an attorney is a Constitutional right and one that the Court takes very seriously. The Judge would not have denied Donna her request for a continuance should she want to hire an attorney. This hearing is called the Arraignment. At this appearance, Donna got a plea bargain offer from the Prosecutor. She did not enter a plea because she asked to have an attorney and was given a new date within thirty days.

Donna speaks to several different attorneys. One of the attorneys she speaks to is charged her a very minimal amount and another is charging a substantial amount. In addition, Donna considers seeking the help of a public defender because the public defender would be the most cost efficient and they are in court everyday and know the Judge. However, what Donna does not know is that while the Public Defender is a knowledgeable and experienced attorney, he will not have time to speak to Donna one on one about the issues and concerns about her case. She will get approximately five to ten minutes to speak to him in Court on the day of her continued hearing.

If you are not a lawyer, the criminal judicial system is somewhat complex and confusing. You must have a lot of questions, such as, when do I have to appear in Court? When do I enter a plea? Can I enter a plea at anytime or do I lose my chance?

Breaking down the process helps understand how it works. Additionally, seeking the guidance and advice of a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney will give you the best possible chances of dismissing or reducing your case because a legal professional not only went to school for this, but they know the ins and outs of the system. Furthermore, if you hire an experienced attorney, they will be familiar with the Courts, the Judges, the Prosecutors and even the court clerks.

Let’s consider an example, and walk through the process.

The only time it is detrimental to not show up in court for a scheduled hearing is when you are not represented by an attorney. If you completely fail to show up, and do not have an attorney present in Court for you, you run the risk of being charged with a Failure to Appear. A Failure to Appear is a charge on its own and can lead to additional criminal consequences. If you do not have an attorney appearing on your behalf, it is mandatory that you appear in Court on the day you are scheduled to appear.

If you do have an attorney, it will not be detrimental to your case for you to not appear in Court. The Judge will not decide your case more favorably if you are present, and Prosecutor will not take sympathy on you because you made the effort to appear in Court. The attorneys will look at the facts of your case, as will the Judge and they will make an order based on those facts. Your presence does not factor into their decision as to your charges and your potential sentence.

In fact, the prosecutor and the Judge know that you have a job, and that you have obligations outside of court. They know that you have responsibly hired an attorney that will be present on your behalf in Court and that attorney will represent your best interests.

When a person has been arrested on suspicion of committing a criminal offense, they will be given a citation specifying the code section. Oftentimes the code section will allow for a reduction from a misdemeanor to an infraction. If it does not, the charge will have to be negotiated to a lesser charge so that an infraction is possible.

The concept is made clear through the use of an example. Let’s say that David lives down the street from his favorite bar. One night, his friends all come over and they head out to celebrate David’s birthday. After the celebrations, they are walking back to David’s place from the bar being loud, yelling at each other, and shouting out at passersby. An officer observes David’s behavior and writes him a citation for a violation of California Penal Code §647(f).

California Penal Code §647 starts with the following phrase: “Every person who commits any of the following acts is guilty of disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor”. There is no vagueness or ambiguity, a person who is charged under this code section shall be charged as a misdemeanor.