Federal Plea Agreements
The Supreme Court recently observed that ninety-seven percent of federal convictions (and ninety-four percent of state convictions) are the result of guilty pleas. Missouri v.Frye, 182 L.Ed.2d 379, 389 (2012). Click here to read opinion. The numbers show that plea bargain agreements are the focal point of most criminal prosecutions and central to the administration of justice. See id.
So what does this mean for you if you are charged with a crime? It means you should consult with an experienced attorney to discuss your full range of options–including the possibility of a plea-bargain agreement.
The options are, generally speaking: (1) plead not guilty and proceed to trial; (2) plead guilty with or without a plea agreement; or (3) plead nolo contendere with the Court’s consent. The third option is rare in federal court, but very common in Texas state courts. Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11 discusses the types of pleas that are available in criminal prosecutions. Click here or here to see the rule.
Another option is to enter a conditional plea of guilty reserving “the the right to have an appellate court review an adverse determination of a specified pretrial motion.” Fed. R. Crim. P. 11(a)(2). This plea is useful to preserve a client’s claim that police violated his or her constitutional rights. See discussion below.
[Note: The building on the left is the Austin Federal Courthouse.]
For example, a common issue that arises is when police conduct a traffic stop in violation of the defendant’s Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure–and then discover contraband, weapons, or some other incriminating item. If the trial court denies your motion to suppress, then you can plead guilty with the condition that an appellate court review the trial court’s decision denying your motion to suppress.
When should I plead guilty? Only after full discovery has been conducted and you have spoken with your attorney about the strengths and weaknesses of your case and possible outcomes.
Finally, and most importantly, although plea-bargain agreements play a central role in criminal justice administration–the client has a right to elect a jury trial and hold the Government to its burden of proof.
The Department of Justice also offers a discretionary procedure called “Fast-Track” plea agreements that are used in criminal immigration cases. They are designed to help preserve court resources and streamline criminal proceedings. In other words, the Government has “bigger fish to fry.”
In general–the program requires that a defendant charged with Illegal Reentry (1326 violation) accept a plea agreement within an expedited time frame He is also required to give up certain rights. In exchange, the prosecutors agree to file a 5K3.1 motion that will discount the defendant’s sentence for an early disposition, i.e., fast track. This program is available nationwide.
One final thought. If you are a non-citizen defendant, you should always consult with your attorney about the collateral consequences of pleading guilty to any state or federal offense. This is because convictions for certain offenses may lead to your deportation or exclusion from the United States of America. The consequences could be catastrophic and tragic–especially if you have lived in the US for a considerable period of time and have little or no connection with your home country.
Plea bargain agreements are a central part of the state and federal criminal justice system. If you are charged with a crime, then you should consult with an experienced trial attorney to determine if a plea-agreement is your best option.
Genaro R. Cortez