The Art of the Plea Agreement: Making the Best of a Bad Situation
Ariel Castro plead guilty to nearly 1,000 separate criminal charges in Ohio for his role in the kidnapping, imprisonment, and repeated assaults of three young women over a 10-year period. He received, according to published reports, life imprisonment plus an additional 1,000 years. Call it overkill, but the plea and subsequent sentencing was part of a carefully orchestrated agreement by Castro’s legal defense team and prosecutors. In pleading guilty, Castro avoids the death penalty — a big motivator for defendants facing overwhelming evidence and an enraged community. Sometimes, a plea agreement, aside from a first-time offender program like Pennsylvania ARD, is the best course of action, but how do you know when the offer aligns with the timing? Our lawyers explain the common variables and tactics that go into the negotiation process.
Pleading Guilty to Lesser Charges
No one wants to accept blame for crimes they did not commit, and any lawyer worth their retainer will fight aggressively to see that their clients win acquittals when they staunchly maintain their innocence. In other instances, pleading guilty to lesser charges can help defendants avoid lengthy trials and harsher penalties where the evidence against them may be highly compelling. In Castro’s case, prosecutors reportedly had mountains of direct and circumstantial evidence attesting to his guilt. Not taking a plea deal could’ve meant the possible forfeiture of his life. That’s simply a gamble not worth taking. While those may not be the stakes in every criminal case, the chance of avoiding a lengthy prison sentence might, and that’s one of the main reasons clients choose to plead guilty to lesser charges. Prosecutors are more in favor of the arrangement because they still get a conviction and defendants receive less punishment and possibly avoid a felony record.
Get the Judge Involved
Sentencing hearings can be mini trials unto themselves. In arranged pleas, prosecutors can make recommendations as to sentencing, but it’s ultimately the judge’s discretion as to what penalty a defendant receives. At sentencing, defense attorneys can still present evidence regarding their client’s moral background, his lack of criminal record, and provide statements from the defendant or allow the defendant to speak in open court. Showing true remorse for crimes committed is powerful and can sway opinions when it comes to doling out a sentence. I’ve seen many instances where impassioned statements have made the difference in judge deciding for a probationary sentence or leveling years behind bars.
Be Wary of Initial Plea Deal Offers
Prosecutors are busy people, and they like to get as much off their plates as possible by getting defendants to accept deals that avoid trials. In my experience, the first offer from a prosecutor’s office isn’t that great. If they’ve thrown trumped up charges at my client, I’m first looking to get them dismissed before I ever consider accepting their deal to plead guilty. Going through the criminal justice system is difficult, and it can weight heavily on a person as time wears on, but seeking to end the torment by accepting an unfair deal won’t provide any relief — just more suffering. If your Burlington County criminal attorney thinks it’s a bad idea to take the deal, listen.
If you, or someone you love, is in trouble with the law, you need experienced criminal defense lawyers on your side to protect your rights and advocate on your behalf. Contact our law offices today for a consultation with members of our skilled legal team. We’re available day or night. We make jailhouse visits.