As a defendant in a criminal prosecution, you will need to make a number of important decisions over the course of your case. One of the most important of those decisions will come about if the prosecutor offers you a plea agreement. At that point, you will need to decide if you want to consider taking a plea agreement at all and, if so, if the agreement offered to you is acceptable. Of course, you should never accept a plea agreement without consulting with your own defense attorney; however, an Omaha defense attorney offers some guidance for those faced with the decision to accept a plea agreement or proceed to trial.
Criminal Prosecution Basics
Before discussing the reasons why accepting a guilty plea agreement might be advisable, it helps to go over some criminal prosecution basics. In the United States, we operate under a system wherein an accused is presumed innocent unless proven guilty. Moreover, an accused must be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This means that the State of Nebraska, through the prosecuting attorney, has the burden in every criminal prosecution to prove a defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In addition, an accused has a number of rights that are guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution. Among the most important are the right against self-incrimination, the right to counsel, and the right to a trial by jury. Although you have a right to a trial by jury, you may waive that right if you choose by entering into a guilty plea agreement.
What Is a Guilty Plea Agreement?
A guilty plea agreement is an agreement entered into by the State of Nebraska and a defendant whereby the defendant agrees to plead guilty to one or more of the charges against him/her in exchange for the sentencing terms agreed to by the parties. For example, if you are charged with possession of a controlled substance you might agree to plead guilty to that charge in exchange for the knowledge that you will not have to spend any more time in jail and will, instead, spend a year on probation. Typically, a plea agreement will include additional terms such as the amount of court costs and fines and/or the terms and conditions of probation. Those terms are usually negotiated by the prosecuting attorney and defense attorney. Sometimes a term will be left “open” which means the parties will argue it to the judge and the judge will decide. For example, your plea agreement might include an “open” sentence, not to exceed five years.
Should You Accept a Plea Agreement?
Ultimately, only you can decide if accepting a plea agreement is in your best interest. There are, however, some important things to think about when debating your options, including:
- You are NEVER required to accept a guilty plea agreement.
- You must be prepared to accept, in open court in front of the judge, that you are guilty of the charge(s) that are included in the plea agreement. You cannot maintain your innocence and accept a guilty plea agreement.
- You must agree with the factual basis (details that support your guilt) that is read into the record at the guilty plea hearing.
- The judge must accept the guilty plea agreement. If the judge doesn’t believe you are entering into the agreement knowingly and voluntarily it won’t be accepted.
- Once accepted, your case is over and you must live with the terms of the agreement.
- You cannot appeal a guilty plea agreement. It is possible to file a motion to withdraw the agreement after it has been accepted; however, the legal standard used in this case presents a high hurdle to overcome, meaning it is very difficult to get a plea agreement withdrawn after it has been accepted to think long and hard before accepting an agreement.
Contact an Omaha Defense Attorney at Petersen Law Office
If you have been charged with a criminal offense in Nebraska, consult with an experienced Nebraska criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. In Nebraska contact Petersen Criminal Defense Law 24 hours a day at 402-509-8070 to discuss your case.