The majority of criminal cases that do not go to trial resolve when the prosecutor and defense attorney agree to a plea bargain. A plea bargain is an arrangement involving a defendant issuing a guilty plea to at least one criminal charge in exchange for a reduced sentence on that charge and/or having other charges dropped.
Your California criminal defense lawyer can recommend how you should proceed with your case before the start of a trial. If your attorney recommends that you plead guilty to a criminal charge, your lawyer should describe the process for pleading guilty.
What is a Judge’s Review?
Many judges agree to plea bargains as long as the legal arrangements worked out between the prosecutor and criminal defense attorney fall within what the judge feels is a reasonable solution. This means a judge presiding over a criminal case reviews the recommended plea bargain and then determines if the punishment recommended for the defendant fits the crime. For example, a judge wants to see stricter terms of punishment for a plea bargain that concerns robbery than the terms of punishment proposed for a simple theft charge.
What is the Defendant’s Role in a Guilty Plea?
Besides agreeing to pleading guilty to at least one criminal charge, a defendant must also understand what the guilty plea means for his or her future. Federal courts require defendants pleading guilty to testify under oath to establish guilt, as well as confirm they understand their legal rights. For what is referred to as a “knowing and intelligent” guilty plea, a defendant must meet the following legal standards.
- Admit to committing the crime
- Understand the punishment proposed under the agreement
- Know the consequences of pleading guilty
- Verify the waiving of certain legal rights
Knowing the consequences of pleading guilty is particularly important, as a criminal conviction can have a significant negative impact on your future. Background checks performed by banks, employers, and property managers can dramatically impact the quality of your life.
What Else Does a Judge Do?
The judge overseeing a criminal trial that includes a guilty plea asks the defendant a long list of questions to see if the guilty plea meets the “knowing and intelligent” legal standards. Defendants should closely follow the advice given by their attorneys during the question stage of the guilty plea process. If the judge feels the defendant has answered the questions properly, the judge can consult with the crime victim to determine whether the guilty plea should be approved. The judge also asks the probation officer handling the case to complete a presentence report before listening to the arguments presented by both sides.
What If a Plea is Not Knowing and Intelligent?
If a defendant entered a guilty plea without the advice of a criminal defense attorney and did not make a knowing and intelligent plea, the defendant has the right to have a conviction overturned and removed from the defendant’s criminal record. At the very least, a defendant has the right to ask that a guilty plea that was entered without it being knowing and intelligent not be considered during any subsequent legal proceedings. Removing a prior conviction because of the lack of a knowing and intelligent guilty plea is important because judges treat repeat offenders more harshly than first-time offenders.
Learn more about the consequences of pleading guilty and the process that unfolds during a plea bargain arrangement by calling the Chambers Law Firm at 714-760-4088.