Posted on April 19, 2016 by Jeffrey FeilerYou probably hear about plea bargains all the time in TV dramas, but how does a plea bargain actually occur? As your local Florida criminal lawyer, I'd like to let you in on the details of when and where they can occur.
There Is No Set Time for Plea Bargains
The truth is, plea bargains can occur at any time along the timeline of the criminal case. I have had cases where the plea bargain process has begun before the Arraignment, at the Arraignment, early in the case before taking depositions, late in the case after taking depositions, and immediately before Trial. In fact, I recently had a Murder case from 2003 that finally started preliminary Trial proceedings on Monday, January 4, 2016 following twelve years of litigation. The case resolved by a plea bargain on Thursday, January 7, 2016 as the parties were finally able to reach a mutually acceptable deal. Likewise, as I write this chapter, I have just left Federal court at an Arraignment before the Magistrate Judge, and my next phone call will be to the Federal Prosecutor to begin the process of what probably will lead to a plea bargain in the long run.
Discussing Plea Bargains with Prosecutors
There are constant opportunities to discuss plea bargains with the Prosecutors. There are times when the case becomes ripe for resolution. This happens particularly where the evidence against the Client is so substantial that Trial would not be their best option. An experienced lawyer can usually see that very quickly and work toward the best result from the start.
In a State case, a Private Attorney may begin the dialogue with the Felony Screening Prosecutor just days after the arrest. Typically, Public Defenders do not become involved at this stage of the proceedings. This is because the defendant has not yet been charged and will not be formally charged for 3 to 4 weeks at the Arraignment. That is when the Public Defender's Office will first get appointed. This is a major advantage, probably the greatest advantage of all, in having a Private Defense Attorney who can go to the Felony Screening Prosecutor early and attempt to get the case "No Actioned" or the charges minimized.
Negotiating for Dismissals
It is also possible to negotiate for some type of Pre-Trial Diversion Program where the Client accepts some conditions, such as performing community service, ultimately leading to a Dismissal of the case. I have had clients who were arrested on serious felonies where the formal charges were reduced to less serious felonies. We therefore started in a much better position. I have had Felonies reduced to Misdemeanors at the beginning of the case which completely transformed my Client's exposure in the case. And, of course, I've had cases where some or all of the charges were "No Actioned", which either eliminated the case or limited my client's exposure in the case in very significant ways.
Seeking a Plea Agreement
Once the Felony Screening Prosecutor has made a filing decision, the case then goes to the Arraignment, which is the first official court appearance before the division Judge. The case also receives a new prosecutor known as the "Division Prosecutor", who will be handling the case thereafter. Of course, the Client and Attorney need to first thoroughly discuss the facts of the case and possible defenses or Motions regarding the evidence. Assuming there is good reason to seek a resolution by plea agreement, it is possible at the time of Arraignment in court to speak with the new Prosecutor to see if some type of plea agreement can be reached. They may be motivated to close new cases. Oftentimes, the prosecutor is willing to make a very good deal in less serious cases at the earliest possible juncture.
Can I Only Seek a Plea Bargain from the State?
Also, in many cases it's possible to seek a plea offer from the Judge as opposed to from the State. An Attorney could suggest to the Judge, on the Court record, that their Client would be interested in resolving the case right then and there. The Client typically has certain objectives such as not going to jail, not receiving a conviction or pleading no contest (nolo contendere) instead of pleading guilty. Sometimes Judges are willing to extend a "Court offered Plea" to the Defendant, even over the State's objection, if the Judge believes that the offer is reasonable and that the case should be resolved.
If you're interested in learning more about plea bargains, read our blog Why Do Plea Bargains Exist and How Do Florida and Federal Courts Handle Them?
If you've recently been charged with a crime and are not confident with your criminal defense attorney, don't hesitate to call Jeffrey Feiler at (305) 697-7209. Jeffrey Feiler has over 30 years of experience with plea bargains in the State of Florida.
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