If you are facing a criminal charge in Virginia, a Roanoke criminal defense attorney may be able to negotiate with the Commonwealth’s attorney for a lesser charge or a lesser sentence.
If you are innocent of the charge, your attorney will try first to have the charge dropped by the prosecutor or dismissed by the judge. If neither of these options is available, you may consider demanding a jury trial where your attorney will explain to a jury why you should be acquitted.
But if you are guilty as charged – and especially if the evidence against you is persuasive and a conviction is certain – having your defense attorney negotiate an acceptable plea bargain or “plea deal” may be your best option.
How Are Most Criminal Cases Resolved?
In fact, most criminal cases in Virginia and every other state are resolved with plea bargains. Accepting a plea deal may significantly reduce the charge or charges you face or the penalties that may be imposed.
However, it is vital to have the right attorney’s advice and to know exactly what you are agreeing to. The most important thing about facing a criminal charge – and this cannot be stressed enough – is that you must have sound advice and representation from the right criminal defense attorney.
A Roanoke criminal defense lawyer with plea negotiation experience will know which plea deal offers to accept, which to reject, and what plea you should enter. Defendants alone make the final choices on these matters, but in most cases, you should adhere to your attorney’s advice.
How Do Plea Bargains Work?
Plea bargains in Virginia usually work in one of these three ways:
1. In a “sentencing” arrangement, a defendant pleads guilty or no contest to a charge in exchange for a reduced or alternative sentence.
2. In a “charge” arrangement, a defendant pleads guilty to a lesser charge, and the original greater charge is dropped. For example, a first-time DUI offender may be offered a dismissal of the DUI charge in exchange for a guilty plea to a reckless driving charge.
3. In a “count” arrangement, a defendant pleads guilty to one or more charges, and in exchange, the court will dismiss any other charges.
How Do Attorneys Negotiate Plea Bargains?
In Virginia, plea bargaining may begin at any time after you have been charged with a crime. In fact, if you are being investigated for a crime but you have not yet been charged, a defense lawyer may be able to “get ahead of the case” and keep any charges from being filed against you.
Depending on the situation, the lawyers, and the jurisdiction, plea negotiations may be conducted remotely or in-person. A plea bargain is a legally binding “contract” between you and the Commonwealth of Virginia that the judge usually accepts and enters as the judgment in the case.
Typically, a plea negotiation is a back-and-forth procedure that involves you, your defense attorney, and the prosecutor. If the prosecutor makes a plea bargain offer, your family law attorney will explain the offer to you and advise you to accept or reject it.
Should You Accept the First Offer?
A plea bargain offer will depend on the jurisdiction, the discretion of the prosecutor, the circumstances of your case, and the negotiating skills of your Roanoke criminal defense attorney.
Like any other negotiation, a first offer should usually be rejected. A better plea bargain can usually be negotiated. The right defense attorney will negotiate on your behalf for the best plea deal that may be available.
What are the Advantages of Accepting a Plea Bargain?
From the defendant’s point-of-view, the advantages of accepting a plea bargain include:
1. You will face a reduced charge, or fewer charges, or receive reduced or alternative sentencing.
2. You know immediately what your sentence will be.
3. Trials take weeks or longer. Plea negotiations can sometimes be concluded in days or even in hours.
In Virginia, a plea bargain may be negotiated before or during a trial. When a trial results in a hung jury, the prosecutor may decide to negotiate rather than conduct a second trial.
What Does it Mean to Plead No Contest?
Everyone knows what guilty and not guilty mean, but what does it mean to plead no contest? A no contest plea has the same effect as a guilty plea – it results in a conviction. However, a no contest plea can protect a defendant if a civil lawsuit is filed by a defendant’s victim or victims.
When you plead no contest, you are in effect saying, “I do not admit guilt, but I am not disputing the charge or charges.” Why, then, enter a no contest plea rather than a guilty plea?
The answer is liability. When a defendant has injured a victim during the commission of a crime, the no contest plea allows that defendant to avoid an admission of guilt. Such an admission could be presented as powerful evidence against the defendant in a civil lawsuit.
When Should You Insist on a Trial?
While plea bargains and no contest pleas usually benefit a defendant, that does not mean that defendants should always accept a plea bargain – even a good one.
If you are innocent of the charge or charges, if the prosecutor’s case against you is weak, or if pleading guilty or no contest would cause you serious, undue hardship, you should discuss your right to a trial by a jury of your peers with your attorney.
What if You Cannot Afford a Conviction?
You also must realize that a no contest or guilty plea will result in a conviction, create a criminal record for you, and probably make it difficult (or impossible) to keep your job or to find similar employment in the future.
If the charge is a felony or a serious misdemeanor, and if you hold a professional license, a conviction may trigger disciplinary action by your professional licensing board. If you are an immigrant, a felony or serious misdemeanor conviction places you at risk for deportation.
If you are charged with a crime, you will probably be offered a plea bargain. Do not plead guilty unless your attorney has told you that a guilty plea is in your best interests. In most cases, your attorney can negotiate a better arrangement and bring your case to its best possible outcome.