Conditional Plea Bargain

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 What Is Criminal Sentencing?

When someone is convicted of a crime, they will then find out what the legal punishment for their behavior will be. This is known as the sentencing phase, and it is separate from the part of the trial that determines guilt or innocence. As there are many levels of crimes from minor infractions to aggravated felonies, there are also many different levels of possible criminal sentences.

Sentences can range from fines and community service, up to serious prison time, and even capital punishment. Each jurisdiction defines their own criminal sentencing guidelines differently; as such, the possible sentence for a conviction may depend on where you are being sentenced. These guidelines allow the judge to consider mitigating and aggravating factors before passing a sentence.

On the lower end of the spectrum are minor infractions, including misdemeanors and disorderly conduct charges. Such offenses can result in considerable fines, probation, community service, and even short jail terms. Serious crimes are most commonly known as felonies, and generally result in a number of years spent in a federal prison facility.

As of 2021, there are 24 American states which still allow for the death penalty. 23 states do not allow for the death penalty, and 3 states have a governor-imposed moratorium on the penalty.

What Is A Plea Bargain? What Is A Conditional Plea Bargain?

In a criminal case, a plea bargain is an agreement between the prosecution and the defense in which the prosecution offers to either drop or reduce some charges. Alternatively, the prosecution may recommend a certain sentence to the judge in exchange for a plea of guilty or no contest from the defendant.

The prosecutor is the person that offers the defendant the plea bargain, and as such, it would be up to the defendant to either accept or reject the plea bargain and send the case to trial. Once a defendant rejects a plea bargain, the defendant cannot retract the previous plea offered to them, even if the defendant receives a harsher penalty. The defendant must accept the plea bargain knowingly and voluntarily.

Additionally, before accepting the defendant’s plea bargain, the judge must ensure that the defendant is aware of their rights to trial as well as the consequences associated with waiving that right.

Generally speaking, you can enter into a plea bargain at any time from the moment you are arrested, up to the moment before a verdict is read. However, some states have laws in place that regulate when and how you can enter into a plea bargain.

Some of the most notable advantages of plea bargaining include:

  • Having a less serious offense placed on your criminal record;
  • Receiving a less severe sentence than you might receive if you were to go to trial;
  • Resolving the matter quickly when compared to resolving the matter through the court system; and
  • Avoiding a trial that could potentially become messy and harm your reputation.

It is interesting to note that the majority of criminal cases are resolved through the plea bargain process. To reiterate, during plea bargaining, the defendant may plead guilty in exchange for less serious charges or a lighter sentence. Once the guilty plea has been entered by a criminal defendant, they are automatically convicted of the crime and are sentenced, and the case is closed.

In some cases, a “conditional plea” may be entered by a criminal defendant. A conditional plea allows the defendant to request that the court review specific legal issues before the plea can be enforced. Essentially, the defendant is stating to the court, “I may be guilty, but there are some legal issues that should be reviewed before I am pronounced guilty.” Additionally, a conditional plea can allow a defendant to withdraw their previous plea of guilty or no contest, and proceed with additional hearings associated with the questionable issues.

Once the conditional plea is entered, the court will review the specific legal issues that were requested by the defendant. If the court finds that the defendant is guilty of what they are being accused of, they will then be sentenced. However, if the defendant is found not guilty, the trial will be over and the case will be closed.

How Is A Conditional Plea Submitted To The Court?

The procedure for submitting a conditional plea is generally laid out in the court’s rules. As such, the requirements may be different according to state, and may depend on whether the case is being held in a state or federal court.

Generally speaking, most courts adhere to federal rules which state that the defendant must obtain the consent of both the government and the court in order to enter the conditional plea. What this means is that conditional pleas are not a guaranteed right, and as such they must be specifically requested. A court form for such a request may be available.

Additionally, the defendant will need to submit in writing the specific legal issues or questions that the defendant wishes to have reviewed. Once again, there is generally a section of the request form in which the defendant can state which issues need to be resolved.

As a general rule, conditional pleas must always be submitted in writing. There are some exceptions to the requirement that conditional pleas be in writing, such as record of a previous plea agreement. However, it is always advised that conditional pleas be made in writing, even if there is no standard court form for the request. This is because the defendant has a written record of their request; additionally, in some jurisdictions, failing to submit the request in writing means that the defendant has effectively waived their right to enter a conditional plea.

What Are Some Legal Issues The Necessitate A Conditional Plea?

As was previously mentioned, the purpose of a conditional plea is to allow the court to review any legal issues that need to be resolved. These are generally significant issues that could “make or break” a defendant’s case. Some common examples of these legal issues may include:

  • The statute of limitations may have expired, and as such the trial should not proceed;
  • There has been a delay between the initial arrest and the trial, thus violating the defendant’s 6th Amendment right to a speedy trial; and/or
  • A request for a motion to suppress evidence may have been wrongfully denied, which could allow evidence to be used that was obtained illegally by the police.

The overall advantage of conditional pleas is that they have the potential to end a case early. An example of this would be how after reviewing the legal issue in question, the defendant may be found not guilty based on the court’s determination. This determination can save both the prosecution and defense counsel valuable time, resources, and money that would have been necessary if a traditional trial were required.

Finally, conditional pleas can assist the court in avoiding or correcting errors associated with evidence or testimonies.

Do I Need An Attorney To Make A Conditional Plea Bargain?

If you have questions regarding a conditional plea bargain, or are involved in a case and wish to make a conditional plea bargain, you will need to work with an area criminal attorney.

An experienced and local lawyer can provide you with relevant legal advice regarding your state’s specific criminal laws. Additionally, an attorney will also be able to represent you in court, as needed.

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