Plea Bargains in California Criminal Cases
Our Los Angeles criminal defense law firm is frequently asked by defendants whether they should accept a plea bargain that was offered by the prosecutor. The correct response to this question is that it’s rarely a simple answer because it will always depend on a wide range of different factors.
The vast majority of criminal charges in California are resolved through the plea bargaining process. So, what exactly is a “plea bargain?” It’s an agreement for a:
- Criminal defendant to plead guilty in court on their charges;
- In exchange for the prosecutor reducing or dismissing some charges, or;
- They will agree to make a recommendation to the judge for a lighter sentence
For example, in DUI cases in California, it’s common for someone to make an agreement to plead guilty to a reckless driving charge, which will carry less penalties than a conviction for driving under the influence.
A plea bargain usually means a defendant will have to plead “nolo contendere,” or “no contest.”
This means it’s not admitting or denying the charge, but a defendant is accepting the penalties because there is enough evidence for a conviction.
Accepting a plea bargain could happen at any point in the criminal case process.
For example, many plea agreements are reached immediately after the arraignment. Others occur right in the middle of jury deliberations while a defendant is waiting for a jury to return a verdict.
A plea bargain is frequently a quick way to resolve a criminal case and both the defendant and prosecutor can get an outcome they are seeking.
A defendant normally avoids to most harsh penalties and will save a significant amount of money in lawyer fees and fines.
On the flip side, the prosecutor has completed their job function of punishing a defendant for committing a crime. It also saves the court a lot of time in their busy calendar by not taking the case to trial.
Below, our Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys will review the most common considerations on whether a defendant should accept a plea bargain offered by the prosecutor.
What is the Strength of the Prosecutor’s Criminal Case?
A primary question you need to consider on whether to agree to a plea bargain is what is the strength of the prosecutor’s case? For example:
- Is there is good chance you would be convicted by a jury?
If the prosecutor’s case against you is weak, then it just makes sense you should probably not accept a plea bargain. However, a prosecutor won’t typically file a weak criminal case.
If you are charged with a felony crime and the evidence is weak, then there is a chance the case could get dismissed at the preliminary hearing stage where probable cause is reviewed.
This means that your criminal defense attorney needs to thoroughly review your case and evidence in order to decide if they could persuade a jury you are not guilty.
If it is determined that the prosecutor holds sufficient evidence that would most likely result in a conviction, then it’s time to consider other factors as well. For instance:
- If you are convicted, then what would be the most likely penalties?
If you have no prior criminal record and there are mitigating factors, then you would probably receive a lighter sentence.
In this type of situation, if the prosecutor’s plea offer includes harsh penalties, then you will not typically want to make an agreement on the assumption their plea bargain is worse than the outcome.
Is there Proof Beyond a Reasonable Doubt?
Criminal defendants will often make the decision to force a prosecutor to prove their case against them beyond a beyond a reasonable doubt.
Our criminal defense law firm never pressures a client to accept a plea bargain they are not comfortable with. You have the constitutional right to a jury trial to prove your innocence.
Any final decision on whether or not to accept a plea bargain from the prosecutor should be made after a thorough consultation with your criminal attorney.
Our lawyers know that when our clients are facing a potential jail sentence, it’s a very stressful event and they are often anxious to just accept the initial plea offer just to get the matter over quickly.
You need to have a skilled and experienced criminal defense attorney in your corner to help you make these crucial life-altering decisions.
Our attorneys will closely review all the specific details and evidence in your case to determine whether the allegations are sufficient to support the criminal charges.
We will work closely with you to help you decide whether you should:
- Accept the plea offer, or
- If it would be wise to take the case to a jury trial.
What Are the Collateral Consequences?
If you are convicted of a criminal offense in California, it will typically carry a lot of collateral consequences. Foe example:
- Deportation from the United States
- Registration as a sex offender
- Loss of a professional license
Undocumented immigrants could face deportation from the United States if they are convicted of certain crimes.
This means you might be in a situation where you should refuse the plea offer and take your chances at trial because you know the immigration consequences could far outweigh any benefit of the accepting a plea bargain from prosecutor.
Other possible collateral consequences include lifetime registration as a sex offender or the loss of a professional license, such as a doctor, lawyer, dentist, or real estate agent.
There are situations where you could accept the plea bargain and still be able to keep your professional license. If you are in such as scenario, you should at least consider the offer to avoid a possible severe sentence if convicted at trial.
Contact Cron, Israels & Stark If Charged with a Crime
It should be noted that a guilty or no contest plea is considered you are guilty of the crime and the conviction will be placed on your criminal record.
This means you might lose certain rights, such as owning or possessing a firearm. It’s also possible you will lose you right your legal right to an appeal if you accept a plea bargain.
Our experienced criminal defense lawyers could potentially negotiate a plea bargain that would allow you to expunge your record after completing your probation.
This would mean when you complete an application for employment, you won’t be required to disclose your conviction.
If you were charged with a crime and need to decide whether to accept a plea offer from the prosecutor, contact our Los Angles criminal defense lawyers to review the details and options.
We can guide you through the risks and benefits of accepting a plea offer.
Cron, Israels & Stark is a criminal defense law firm located at 11755 Wilshire Blvd, 15th Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90025.
Contact us to discuss your case at (424) 372-3112.