How Can I Enter A Plea To A Federal Charge?
If you were questioned by the police during a federal investigation, during a grand jury investigation or after an arrest, you were likely pressured to give up any information you may have about the case or investigation. Although you may be told that it is in your best interest to talk to the officers or agents involved, it's usually a better idea to ask for an attorney and let him or her do the talking for you.
An experienced federal defense lawyer can help you negotiate with the prosecution to ensure that your rights are protected and that you end up spending as little time as possible behind bars. In some instances, you may be able to secure a dismissal of charges or immunity from prosecution in exchange for your cooperation with the help of a defense attorney.
Working Toward A Favorable Plea
A plea bargain is essentially an agreement between you, your defense counsel and the prosecutor that will dispose of your case. In exchange for you guilty plea, the prosecutor typically agrees to recommend an agreed-upon punishment to the court or reduce the charges you face. A plea bargain is a way to control the outcome of your case; it is impossible to say with 100 percent certainty what the outcome of any jury trial will be.
There are three general types of plea bargains:
- Charge bargains: A plea agreement is made that involves a lesser charge than the original offense in exchange for a guilty plea.
- Sentence bargains: The plea agreement includes a willingness to recommend a specific sentence to the judge in exchange for a guilty plea.
- Fact bargains: This type of agreement is not often used but may be helpful in instances where you may have civil liability for a criminal act. Through a fact bargain, you may plead stipulate certain facts to sustain the guilty plea while shielding yourself from answering other questions on record. It's much more common to use a no contest or Alford plea.
Originating from a case out of North Carolina (North Carolina v. Alford), Alford pleas allow you to assert your innocence to criminal charges while at the same time accepting that the evidence strongly points to your guilt. In making an Alford plea, you are not admitting guilt, but you are bypassing the guilt phase of the criminal process and moving on toward sentencing.
A conditional plea is a no contest or guilty plea that is intended to move your case to the appellate level. This type of plea allows you to request a review of a decision made by the trial court that is adverse to your case. If the appeal is resolved in your favor, you can withdraw the conditional plea and take your case to trial.
Problems With Plea Bargains In Federal Courts
Many federal offenses come with mandatory minimum sentences. These offenses leave little to no room for plea bargaining as neither the prosecutor nor the judge can depart below these mandatory minimums in sentencing.
Even when mandatory minimums do not apply, the federal sentencing guidelines provide strict guidance to a sentencing judge in determining an appropriate sentence.
Coming to the negotiating table without knowing the stakes in your case will likely not serve you well. You need to know what charges you face and the potential punishments affiliated with them in order to know whether a plea bargain is or is not in your best interest. Your federal defense attorney should be able to give you an idea of a ballpark range for federal sentencing if you plead guilty or are found guilty at trial of the federal offenses you face.
Will The Judge Accept Your Plea?
When a guilty plea is entered in federal court, the judge must determine whether the plea was:
- Voluntarily made, knowing that it is a waiver of rights guaranteed by the Constitution
- Based on some facts that would tend to prove that you are guilty of the charges to which you are pleading
The court should not participate in plea negotiations between your attorney and the prosecutor. If the judge decides not to accept your plea - to reject your plea - you will have the option to withdraw it.
U.S. vs. J.R.
Charge: Mail Fraud (9 Counts), Conspiracy to Commit Mail Fraud
Facing: Three years in prison
Result: One year, One day
Our client was convicted of nine counts of mail fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud. The government alleged that our client fraudulently obtained more than $115,000 from her former employer. At the sentencing hearing, the Judge granted our motion for a downward departure, sentencing our client to one year and one day. The government had asked the judge to sentence our client to several years.