WHEN TO ACCEPT A PLEA BARGAIN IN ARIZONA
Although the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees all criminal defendants the right to a trial by jury, a very small percentage of criminal cases ever make it that far. Rule 17.4 of the Arizona Rules of Criminal Procedure provides that the parties in a criminal action may negotiate and reach an agreement on any aspect of their case. Such agreements, commonly referred to as “plea agreements” or “plea bargains,” occur with such frequency that it is reported that more than 90 percent of criminal cases across the country are resolved through plea bargaining.
If you are charged with a crime in Arizona, chances are high you will be offered a plea. Deciding whether to accept a plea bargain in Arizona is not a decision you want to make without guidance from a skilled Phoenix defense lawyer.
Benefits to Plea Bargaining
From a broad policy perspective, plea bargaining provides benefits to prosecutors, defendants, and the judicial system. Informal communication between the attorneys promotes greater understanding and appreciation of the strengths and weaknesses of both sides of the case. When an agreement is reached, both parties are able to avoid long and expensive litigation. Plea bargains also economize the usage of the judicial system, which would grind to a halt if a trial were necessary in every case.
However, not every plea offer is fair, and some offers made by the prosecutor should be rejected or answered with a counteroffer. To use a car purchasing transaction as an analogy, a person interested in buying a car would carefully consider all the terms of a seller’s offer before agreeing to purchase the car. If the car is too expensive, the buyer would reject the seller’s offer, or make a counteroffer. Similarly, a criminal defendant must evaluate a prosecutor’s offer and determine whether it is fair. Below are some of the many factors to consider.
Important Factors to Consider In Plea Negotiations
- Has the defendant consulted with an attorney? Prosecutors often make better plea offers to defendants with attorneys. The assistance of an experienced Phoenix defense attorney, like Howard Snader, is invaluable in evaluating a plea offer.
- Strength of each party’s case. Lawyers are trained to assess the facts of the case, as well as legal and procedural issues, to determine the strengths and weaknesses of their plea bargaining positions.
Factual issues include the testimony and credibility, or believability, of the witnesses, along with other evidence in the case. A lawyer must carefully review all the evidence and attempt to determine the likelihood of success at trial.
Legal and procedural issues include subjects such as the admissibility of evidence and the potential success of pre-trial motions. For example, if the police conducted an improper search, a good criminal defense attorney knows the evidence obtained in the illegal search may be excluded from trial, which increases the strength of the defendant’s negotiating position.
If the defendant’s case is strong, it might be advisable to take the case to trial and seek an acquittal. In such situations the prosecutor often perceives the weakness in the government’s case and should make a much better plea offer. For example, in many cases Howard Snader has convinced the prosecutor to dismiss the charges against his clients, or to agree to a significantly reduced sentence.
- The prosecutor and the judge. Experienced criminal defense attorneys are often able to consider their familiarity with the judge and the prosecutor involved in the case.
Prosecutor – There may be more risk associated with taking a case to trial against an experienced and talented prosecutor, than against a less talented or less experienced prosecutor. Similarly, some prosecutors have much more experience prosecuting one class of crimes than another. For example, one prosecutor may be more experienced with drug crimes, while another prosecutor is more experienced with sex crimes.
Judge – If the parties reach a plea agreement acceptable to the Court, the judge will impose the sentence agreed upon by the parties. However, if a case goes to trial and the defendant is convicted, the judge will determine the sentence. Many judges have long histories on the bench and have sentenced hundreds or thousands of defendants. Knowing a judge’s past sentencing history can help a criminal defendant weight the risk of refusing a plea offer and going to trial.
- Obtaining certainty. Some criminal defendants, even when free on bond, grow weary of the uncertainty of living life under the cloud of an unresolved case. Plea bargaining may allow the parties to resolve the case more quickly, so that the defendant can “move on” with his or her life.
- Obtaining a special deal. When multiple defendants are involved in a case, or in related cases, the prosecutor often makes a special deal with one or more defendants who agree to testify against other defendants. For a defendant willing to make such a deal, it’s usually important to do so quickly. In some cases, the prosecutor only makes such a deal with one defendant.
- Getting out of jail as quickly as possible. In some circumstances a defendant is unable to obtain bail and may be able to get out of jail sooner by entering a plea and concluding the case.
- Weighing the offered sentence against possible sentences upon conviction. Sometimes the sentence offered by the government is far less than the maximum sentence a judge may impose after trial. In these cases a defendant must weigh the risk of receiving a substantially harsher sentence if found guilty at trial.
- Are there adverse collateral consequences to the defendant? Sometimes a guilty plea results in adverse consequences harmful to a defendant. For example, pleading guilty to a crime can have adverse immigration effects. Or perhaps a professional driver or pilot risks losing his license as the result of a conviction for a drug or alcohol offense. Such adverse consequences must be carefully weighed before accepting a plea.
Contact a Phoenix Defense Lawyer
If you’ve been charged with a crime and need help evaluating your case or negotiating a resolution with the prosecutor, contact Howard Snader at 602-899-0590. He has resolved hundreds of cases through effective plea bargaining. Plus, if a trial is necessary, Mr. Snader can use his years of litigation experience to seek the best possible result for your case.