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Last Updated on: 20th October 2023, 09:31 am
Getting charged with a federal crime can be scary. The stakes are high, and the federal system can seem cold and unforgiving. Many people facing federal charges wonder if they can negotiate with prosecutors to get a better deal through a plea bargain. The short answer is yes, you can often negotiate plea deals on federal cases. But there are risks and benefits to weigh when deciding whether to take a plea or go to trial. Here’s what you need to know about plea bargaining federal charges.
Over 90% of federal criminal cases end in a plea deal, rather than going to trial. Here’s how federal plea bargains typically work:
There’s a lot of back-and-forth negotiation that happens before a deal is reached. Defense lawyers will advocate for the best possible deal under the circumstances. Prosecutors know that trials are uncertain, so they have incentive to compromise.
There are some big potential benefits to negotiating a plea bargain on federal charges versus going to trial:
In many cases, the sentencing difference between pleading and losing at trial is significant. Prosecutors know juries are unpredictable, so they’re often willing to give sentencing discounts in exchange for avoiding trial.
Of course, there are also risks and downsides to keep in mind:
The worst case scenario is you plead guilty expecting a light sentence, but the judge imposes a much harsher sentence than you expected. This is rare, but it does happen.
Certain factors make federal prosecutors more likely to offer a favorable plea bargain:
The less time and resources they need to invest in your case, the better deal they’ll likely offer. But federal prosecutors rarely make plea offers that seem overly lenient.
Yes, it’s totally normal to go back and forth negotiating a plea deal multiple times. The first offer is rarely the best deal prosecutors will agree to. Your lawyer can keep countering and see if they’ll lower charges or the sentence recommendation.
But you can’t wait forever – at some point you’ll need to either accept their final offer or proceed to trial. Prosecutors will eventually get annoyed with excessive back-and-forth bargaining.
If you don’t accept a plea offer, then your case goes to trial. Rejecting a deal has a few consequences:
Sometimes rejecting an initial offer leads to a better deal later. But usually federal prosecutors get more stubborn if you decline their offer.
Whether to accept a federal plea offer depends on your specific situation. It’s a major decision that requires weighing the risks and rewards. Some key questions to think about:
There are no easy answers. Talk through all these issues thoroughly with your defense lawyer before deciding whether to accept a federal plea offer.
If you decide to pursue a plea bargain, here are some strategies to try securing a better federal plea deal:
The more leverage you have, the more room to potentially negotiate. But some cases leave little room for bargaining if the evidence is strong.
Cooperating means providing information to prosecutors that helps build cases against others. It’s one of the main ways defendants get lower sentences in federal cases. But there are risks:
Cooperation deals require waiving your 5th Amendment rights. And you have to come completely clean about your own activities. So there are many tough issues to weigh before accepting a cooperation deal. Discuss the pros and cons at length with your lawyer.
Yes, federal judges can reject plea bargains, but this rarely happens. Judges may reject deals if they think:
If a judge rejects your plea deal, you can either work out a new deal with prosecutors or proceed to trial.
It’s possible but challenging to appeal a conviction or sentence after pleading guilty. Grounds for appeal after taking a plea deal are limited to:
So appealing after pleading guilty is difficult and rarely succeeds. It’s best to negotiate the best deal possible up front rather than counting on winning an appeal later.
Here are some key takeaways on negotiating plea deals for federal charges:
Facing federal charges is daunting. But working with an experienced federal defense lawyer can help you navigate the plea bargaining process and achieve the best possible outcome. Be sure to consider all angles before accepting or rejecting a federal plea offer.
Federal Plea Bargaining. United States Department of Justice.
Plea Bargain. Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute.
Plea Agreements. United States Sentencing Commission.
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