Are you facing a criminal charge in Los Angeles? Most criminal charges may take an ugly turn, even those that sound/look minor. If you are successfully convicted, you will be liable to prolonged prison sentences, jail terms, and hefty fines, among others.
That is why it is in everyone's favor to have their criminal charges dismissed or reduced. However, it is not easy for you to maneuver it on your own. Getting a skilled attorney to help you navigate the process of plea bargaining, get your charges reduced or dismissed altogether is one of the benefits of hiring a lawyer.
If you or your loved one is facing a criminal charge, and you are not sure how to get that weight off you, the Law Offices of Jeff Voll is ready to help you. For many years, we have helped defendants get reduced charges as part of a plea bargain. Get in touch to learn more about how we can help you.
What is a Plea Bargain?
Plea bargains are simply legal “deals” or agreements between the prosecutor and the defendant to plead “no content” or “plead guilty.” In exchange, the prosecution is expected to recommend a specific penalty or sentence that is acceptable to the defense. In other instances, the prosecution may want to drop or reduce one or more charges or even reduce them to less serious charges. That is the way most of the civil and criminal cases end up.
What are the Differences Between Charge Bargaining and Sentence Bargaining?
Plea bargaining is usually divided into two main categories: charge bargaining and sentence bargaining. Plea bargaining can, however, be divided into additional categories:
- Charge bargaining - In this case, the prosecutor will agree to either reduce the charges to a less serious offense or drop them altogether in exchange for a guilty plea.
- Sentence bargaining – Here, the prosecutor will agree to recommend lighter penalties for your charges if you plead Nolo Contendere or enter a guilty plea.
What is the Importance of Plea Bargaining?
Overcrowding is still one of the top challenges that Los Angeles courts, prisons, and county jails' authorities have to deal with. Overcrowding stretches the available resources; as a result, mounting pressure on judges, prosecutors, and prison authorities to quickly move cases through the justice system.
Criminal cases may take longer, several days, weeks, or months. Other cases may drag for years on end. Aso, the outcome of criminal trials is not always predictable. On the other hand, guilty pleas take a few minutes to be arranged. More impressively, pleading “No Contest" (Nolo Contendere) gives both the defense and the prosecution some control over the results that everyone would be happy about.
It is for these reasons that many people prefer plea bargaining. There are policies or government regulations that lay out the guidelines regarding how pleading “no contest” can be arranged and accepted in a court of law. That way, it ensures justice for both the defendant and the plaintiff.
Are There Instances Where California Law Ban Plea Bargaining in Some Cases?
California Penal Code Section 1192.7 — Proposition 8 bans plea bargaining when both the "information” and “indictment documents” carry serious charges like violent crimes or serious felony.
Different crimes fall under the “serious felony” category. Some of these include crimes in the following California Penal Codes:
- 187 PC: Murder law
- 192(b) PC: Involuntary manslaughter
- 261 PC: Rape law
- 205 PC: Mayhem law
- 459 PC: First-degree burglary
- 207, 208, 209 PC: Kidnapping Law
- 211 PC: Robbery Law
Other crimes that are regarded as “serious felonies” in California include (but not limited to):
- Life imprisonment or any crime punishable by death
- Shooting from a vehicle
- A violent crime inflicting great bodily harm
- Crimes involving a deadly weapon like a gun
What Are Exceptions to This Statute (Proposition 8) that Would Allow You to Plead “No Contest”?
- When the prosecution didn’t have sufficient evidence that would prove the case
- When it was impossible to obtain the testimony of the material witness
- When a dismissal or reduction of the charges won’t result in a significant change in the penalties or charges
Despite the limitations, people continue to “plead guilty” and negotiate cases, even where the above exceptions didn’t apply.
However, these laws only apply to criminal charges that are in the indictment or information documents. That means clever attorneys could initiate plea bargaining before or during grand jury investigation or preliminary hearing, thus get you off the hook of serious criminal charges.
However, the insufficient information around some case makes it hard to make informed acceptances and offers. There are other times, though, when evidence that comes to light after investigations prompt either side to push for a plea bargain. Unfortunately, if you wait until the case already is bound for trial, chances are you won’t be allowed to enter a plea bargain.
What is the Difference Between Entering “No Contest” and Guilty Plea?
Entering “Guilty Plea”
Pleading guilty simply means you are admitting the charges that have been leveled against you. As a result, the court can go on and punish you for the offense. The court, on the other hand, must ensure that you willingly entered the guilty plea. You must give them a reason to believe that you are not lying. There have been cases where parents plead guilty of offenses they have not committed in order to protect their children. If judges discover that, they won't accept the plea. Again, for the jury to accept the plea, the prosecutor must table the evidence they had against you if you had not entered the guilty plea.
Pleading “Nolo Contendere”
By pleading “Nolo Contendere,” you are telling the court that you don’t wish to defend yourself against the charges leveled against you. The main reason that might prompt you to enter "nolo contendere" is to avoid going through a civil suit. That means you are allowing the court to determine the punishment for the charges leveled against you, although you do not admit that you are guilty of the crime.
The good thing about it is that it allows you to explain yourself before the judge. That way, the jury will gain a better perspective on circumstances around your case. As a result, there will be a high possibility that the court will hand you a lesser punishment after the trial.
What Are Some of the Reasons That Might Prompt You to Enter a Plea Bargain?
If you have a criminal case leveled against you, different reasons might motivate you to enter a plea bargain. You might want to solve matters quickly or avoid lengthy prison sentences. Also, there are cases whose successful conviction might warrant serving prolonged prison time, depending on the evidence tabled against you.
Generally, here are some of the reasons you might want to enter a plea bargain:
- In the interest of time: You want to solve the issues quickly and, where possible, satisfactorily.
- To cushion you from the expense that might go into the trial.
- Avoiding serving a jail term.
Alternatives that You May Negotiate in a Plea Bargain to Avoid Stiffer Penalties
Criminal cases usually attract tougher sentences, huge fines, and prolonged prison times. In cases where there is no possibility of dropping the charges, your attorney can help negotiate for a reduction of your sentence to:
- Deferred judgment
- Home monitoring
- Participation in community service
- Participation in court-approved alcohol or drug treatment program
Do the Judges Get Involved in the Plea Bargain Process?
When judges meet defense attorneys and prosecution in the meeting chambers, they assess the weight of the evidence leveled against you. They also weigh any offers advanced by the prosecution, what you are objecting to, and what you are willing to take up. Then, the judges will present the offers they feel are better based on your current evidence. Finally, if the plea terms are satisfactory, the judges will approve the agreement.
Can You Withdraw a Plea Bargain?
Yes, it is possible, but there are conditions. For you to withdraw a plea, you need to file a motion to withdraw the plea. However, your attorney must prove “a good cause” and not “a mistake, ignorance, or any factor that connotes a mistake, fraud or duress by the defendant.”
A plea can be withdrawn if:
- There is a failure by your attorney to investigate your case properly, and new evidence comes to light that would otherwise be discovered by a competent criminal attorney
- Your attorney entered the plea without your consent
- You were denied fundamental rights
- Your attorney didn’t inform you about the immigration consequences that might result in entering the plea
- You were coerced into or given promises that prompted you to enter a plea
Contact a Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
If you are facing criminal charges, then you must look for an experienced attorney to help get your charges reduced or dismissed. We invite you to contact our Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys at the Law Offices of Jeff Voll to help you fight your charges. Although our focus is to have your charges dropped or achieve an acquittal, we will evaluate your case to see if getting reduced charges as a plea bargain would be the best option. Get in touch with us today at 323-467-6400.