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When Does The Plea Bargaining Process Start In A Federal Case?

November 2, 2021
When Does The Plea Bargaining Process Start In A Federal Case?

The vast majority of federal cases end in a plea deal. This is because prosecutors tend to only pursue a matter if they have a high likelihood of obtaining a conviction. Furthermore, those who are charged with crimes may decide that accepting a plea deal is in their best interest because it provides them with a guaranteed outcome. Let’s take a closer look at the plea bargain process and when negotiations typically begin in a typical case.

Why Do Prosecutors Offer Plea Deals?

Prosecutors typically offer plea deals because they want to resolve a case as quickly as possible. While this may seem like a dereliction of duty, the truth is that the docket is almost always full of cases that need to be resolved in a timely manner to protect a defendant’s legal rights.

The Sixth Amendment says that a defendant is entitled to a speedy trial. Although speedy is a term that has no set definition, it’s possible that charges could be dropped in a given case if a person can prove that his or her proceeding has gone on for too long.

Plea deals are also offered to increase the likelihood that the government can secure a conviction in a given matter. For example, authorities may agree to drop a charge in exchange for a guilty plea in a case that they might not feel like they can win at trial.

When Does the Plea Bargain Process Begin?

The plea bargain process typically begins as soon as a person has been charged with a crime. A prosecutor may even offer a plea deal as an incentive for a person of interest to confess to his or her illegal actions before being formally charged. However, it is important to note that a deal is not official until it is in writing and presented to the judge.

Furthermore, the terms of a plea deal can be altered by the judge presiding over a case. Therefore, it’s always a good idea to speak with an attorney prior to agreeing to anything. If you are under investigation, it may also be in your best interest to speak to an attorney before agreeing to an interview with authorities.

What Happens After an Offer Is Made?

After an offer is made, a defendant has the right to either accept or reject the proposed terms. A defendant will also be given the opportunity to make a proposal of his or her own to the prosecution. In most cases, a defendant’s attorney will handle the process of countering the government’s offer on behalf of that person.

In the event that a plea agreement is accepted, it will be sent to the judge for final approval. If the agreement is rejected, the case will likely proceed to trial. If the prosecutor’s offer is countered by the defendant, there will likely be a short delay to review it and make a final decision.

Let’s say that a deal has been reached and has been sent to the judge for final review. At this point, the judge now has the power to approve, reject or alter the proposed deal. It isn’t uncommon for federal law to give a court leeway to impose a sentence that falls outside of a plea deal’s proposed guidelines.

Assuming that a deal has been reached and approved, the defendant will plead guilty and await the handing down of a formal sentence. Once this happens, the case is considered to be closed. However, if a defendant fails to comply with the terms of the plea agreement, it could be revoked or altered at any time.

What to Think About When Accepting a Plea Agreement

If you are offered a plea deal in your case, it’s important to remember that it counts as a conviction. Therefore, if you have a criminal history, accepting a deal could trigger mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines regardless of what you are pleading guilty to in your most recent matter. Furthermore, you should consider that a criminal record could hinder your ability to find work, get an education or own a gun.

It’s not unusual for a prosecutor to offer a plea agreement in a federal criminal case. Depending on the circumstances of your case, it may be a good idea to accept it. However, your attorney will likely be able to provide more insight into whether this is true in your proceeding.

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