If you are currently the defendant in a criminal prosecution it is highly likely that the prosecuting attorney will offer you a plea agreement at some point during your case. You should always discuss the details of a plea agreement offered to you with your attorney before deciding to accept the offer. In general though, an Omaha criminal defense attorney at Petersen Law Office explains what you need to know before entering into a guilty plea agreement.
The Criminal Prosecution Process
After your arrest, you will usually have a bond amount set that allows you to be released while your case is pending. If you are able to pay the bond (bail), your initial hearing in court may be set out a week or longer. If you remain in custody, your initial appearance (also called an arraignment) will likely be within a day or two of the arrest. It is not uncommon for the prosecuting attorney to offer a defendant a plea agreement as early as the initial court appearance, particularly if the charges are not serious ones. In fact, the State often makes a point of offering probation only plea agreements early on, before a defendant has consulted with an attorney, in the hope that defendants will jump at the chance to resolve the case. Never accept a guilty plea agreement without first consulting with an experienced criminal defense attorney.
What Is a Guilty Plea Agreement?
A guilty plea agreement is an agreement entered into by the State of Nebraska (or any other state) and a defendant that requires the defendant 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 with intent to distribute as a Class IIA felony, which carries a possible term of imprisonment of up to 20 years, you might agree to plead guilty to that charge in exchange for an agreed upon sentence of just four years in prison. 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, if relevant. 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.
Things to Know about Guilt Plea Agreements
It is imperative that you understand what you are agreeing to before you accept a guilty plea agreement. A few things you need to know about plea agreements:
- 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.
Questions to Ask Yourself
If you are considering entering into a guilty plea agreement, ask yourself the following questions and consult with your criminal defense attorney before making your final decision:
- Are you guilty? You cannot enter a guilty plea agreement if you are not.
- Has your lawyer spent adequate time explaining the agreement to you? Most terms in a plea agreement are negotiable. If there is a term you cannot agree to, ask your attorney to try and negotiate that term.
- What are your chances of prevailing if you take your case to trial? The State must “discover” all evidence it plans to use against you at trial to you. Before accepting a guilty plea you should go over that evidence in detail and discuss whether your attorney believes the State could convict you at trial.
- Do you understand all the consequences of pleading guilty? Along with any punishment included in the plea agreement itself, you may face additional negative consequences as a result of admitting guilt that need to be considered. For example, will you face professional discipline? Might you lose your job? Will a conviction interfere with your rights to minor children?
Contact an Omaha Criminal Defense Attorney at Petersen Law Office
If you are facing criminal charges in the State of Nebraska, it is always in your best interest to consult with an experienced Omaha criminal defense attorney about the specific facts and circumstances of your case. Contact an Omaha criminal defense attorney at Petersen Law Office 24 hours a day at 402-513-2180 to discuss your case with an experienced defense lawyer.