If you face a criminal charge in the State of Washington – and it could happen to anyone – you should understand how plea bargains are made and how they work. If you’re accused of a crime, before you agree to any plea deal, it’s vital for you to consult a Seattle criminal defense attorney.
If you continue reading, you will learn the details about plea deals and what happens when a Washington State criminal prosecutor offers a plea bargain to a criminal defendant. You’ll also learn what steps you must take if you’re arrested and accused of a crime in this state.
But the most important thing to know about facing a criminal charge – and this cannot be emphasized strongly enough – is that you must have legal advice and representation from the right criminal defense lawyer.
When is Pleading Guilty to a Crime Your Most Practical Option?
Pleading guilty is never the best outcome if you’re charged with a crime. Obviously, an acquittal by a jury or having the case dismissed by the judge is the ideal outcome.
But pleading guilty sometimes makes sense, especially if you’re facing a long prison term, the evidence against you is overwhelming, and a conviction is inevitable. In that situation, if you are offered a good plea deal, you and your attorney should discuss and seriously consider the offer.
A plea deal is a binding contract between a defendant and the state. A plea deal resolves a criminal charge (or charges) against the defendant. You may not realize that the vast majority of criminal cases in every state are resolved through plea bargains rather than courtroom trials.
What is Required to Finalize a Plea Deal?
In Washington State, a defendant’s guilty plea to any charge must be voluntary, and a defendant must understand the terms and consequences of pleading guilty. When a deal offered by the prosecution has been agreed to by a defendant, it still must be approved by the judge.
How does a plea deal work? A plea deal typically involves pleading guilty (or pleading “no contest”):
1. to a criminal charge in return for a lesser sentence
2. to a lesser charge in return for having the original charge dismissed
3. to one or several original charges in return for a dismissal of the other charges
Like any type of negotiation, a first plea deal offer from the prosecutor should usually be dismissed. A better deal can probably be negotiated. The right defense lawyer can negotiate on a defendant’s behalf for the best plea deal that may be available.
What Advantages Can a Plea Deal Provide?
Criminal trials in the State of Washington can last for weeks – and sometimes even longer. A plea deal, however, can resolve a case in just minutes. Juries are unpredictable, but plea deals allow both sides to have more influence over the outcome of a criminal case.
Prosecutors use plea deals to move criminal cases more rapidly through the court system. Without plea bargains, criminal courts in Washington State would be overwhelmed. In fact, more than ninety percent of criminal convictions across the United States are the result of plea deals.
What is a “No Contest” Plea?
Pleading “no contest” to a criminal charge means that you will be convicted. No contest means “I’m not guilty, but I am not disputing the charge.”
Why, then, plead no contest rather than guilty? The answer is to avoid liability. When someone who committed a crime has injured a victim, the no contest plea lets the defendant avoid a formal admission of guilt that might be offered as evidence against that defendant in a civil lawsuit.
If You Are Accused of A Crime
If you are charged with a crime in the State of Washington, you have rights, and you must exercise your rights. One of these is the right to remain silent.
Do not answer any questions asked by the police until or unless your attorney is present. The best strategy is to say – politely – that you prefer to exercise your right to remain silent.
You also have the right to consult an attorney. As quickly as possible after you’ve been arrested, obtain a good defense attorney’s help. Don’t try to negotiate anything on your own, do not try to explain anything to the police, and don’t sign any legal documents unless your lawyer is present.
How Can You Know If a Plea Deal is Your Best Option?
The right defense attorney will know which offer to accept, which offers to reject, and whether you should plead guilty, not guilty, or no contest to a criminal charge. Only the defendant makes the final decision, but if that defendant is you, it’s best to accept your lawyer’s recommendation.
What Else Should You Know About Plea Deals?
Trials can be tricky, jurors can be quirky, and the best attorney anywhere cannot promise or guarantee a certain result in a criminal case. If you refuse to negotiate for a plea deal, and if you insist on a jury trial, you must realize that a harsher sentence is likely if you are found guilty.
It is impossible for the state to bring every criminal case to trial, so if you are arrested and charged with crime, you will probably be offered a plea deal.
Can You Withdraw a Guilty Plea?
Before a sentence is handed down at the end of a criminal case, a defendant may seek to withdraw a guilty plea with his or her attorney’s help, but in order to grant that request, the judge must be persuaded that not granting your request would result in a “manifest injustice.”
What would constitute a manifest injustice?
1. The judge did not tell you what the maximum possible sentence in your case was.
2. Your attorney failed to explain the consequences of a guilty plea.
3. You are an immigrant, and your attorney did not explain that a guilty plea could trigger a deportation.
4. English is not your native language, and you were not provided with an interpreter.
When Should You Insist on a Jury Trial?
In most cases, when you are certain that you are not guilty of a criminal charge, you should not agree to any plea deal. Rather, you should insist on your right to a trial by jury and have your defense attorney fight aggressively for your acquittal.
The right Seattle criminal defense attorney can take your case to trial and fight for a not guilty verdict – and for justice – on your behalf. Nevertheless, if you can’t prove that you didn’t do the crime, in most cases, you should ask your attorney to negotiate the best possible plea deal.