A blind plea is a guilty plea without a set sentence. This is different than a standard plea bargain, in which the defense attorney and the prosecuting attorney agree on a guilty plea for the accused (also known as the defendant), and, in exchange, the prosecuting attorney recommends a lighter sentence (typically, an amount of time that both attorneys and the accused have agreed to).

A blind plea is accompanied by no such agreement, thus leaving it up to the judge to sentence the defendant as he or she sees fit (within the bounds of the law). The judge still follows sentencing guidelines that give minimum and maximum penalties, according to the type of crime the defendant is charged.

How Does Entering a Blind Plea Differ from Plea Bargaining?

A blind plea is very risky. After all, it involves the defendant throwing himself on the mercy of the court, in the purest sense of the expression. In most plea bargains, the prosecution agrees to recommend a reduced sentence (it is the judge, not the prosecutor, who has the final say over sentencing), which the judge usually follows.

However, if the judge does not follow the prosecution’s recommendation, and imposes a tougher sentence, the defendant can change his or her plea to "not guilty" and proceed with a trial on the original charges. A blind plea does not give the defendant this option. The defendant is basically stuck with whatever sentence the judge might impose (again, within the bounds of the law).

What are Some Practical Consequences of Entering a Blind Plea?

A criminal defendant must understand that his blind plea will effectively cancel all his defenses. A defendant wouldn’t be able to avoid conviction for a serious crime by making a blind plea to a lesser included offense. In place of a blind plea, a defendant may consider entering a no-contest plea. Unlike a blind plea, a no-contest plea preserves the defenses and allows plea bargaining for a criminal defendant.

A no contest plea allows the defendant to avoid any civil liability for their crime. You can read more about no contest pleas, other types of pleas, and how they work here: Types of Criminal Pleas.

Why Would Anyone Seek a Blind Plea?

Still, there are some reasons why a defendant might take a blind plea bargain. For example, if the judge has a record of going easy on people who plead guilty, or if the prosecution has a very good case (but refuses to cut a deal), then a blind plea might be a risk worth taking.

A defendant may take a blind plea when there is no lesser included offense to plea bargain for, or when a very unfavorable plea bargain is imposed by the prosecution. If a blind plea is paired with clear signs of regret, remorse, and other actions, then it is possible that a lenient judge can hand down a lighter sentence.

Some individuals might prefer taking a chance with the judge and not trust the prosecution. Individuals with a long criminal history and extensive experience with the prosecution might be hesitant to trust them. However, every defendant should trust their attorney, whether they are a criminal defense lawyer or a public defender.

If your lawyer advises you to take a plea deal or to plead no contest, then strongly consider following their advice if they do not think it’s worth the risk to take a blind plea. 

How Do I Know If a Blind Plea is Right for Me?

Due to the nature of blind pleas, they are typically not recommended. Most legal professionals do not recommend going into something without a complete understanding of the potential outcomes.

If the plea bargain offered by the prosecutor is not a beneficial deal, but you also feel compelled to plead guilty, then a blind plea might seem like your only option. However, instead consider pleading “no contest” as explained above, it has benefits unlike a blind plea.

It is hard to say when a lawyer will recommend their client to submit a blind plea. It is also hard to say when a blind plea is beneficial to a client. For your best interest, consider all of the above options before you file a blind plea.

Should I Contact a Criminal Defense Attorney?

In most other cases, however, it is probably best to seek a favorable plea bargain, or to plead "not guilty" and take your chances at trial. Your criminal defense attorney is the person to ask for advice in this situation, and is in the best position to decide which course of action to recommend.

Be careful about making a blind plea or engaging in plea bargaining without understanding clearly the consequences of entering different types of pleas. It can stop you from appealing the decision and if convicted, then you will have a criminal record.