If you've been charged with a federal crime, you will probably be offered a plea bargain. In fact, out of all federal criminal prosecutions, 97% are resolved by plea bargain. But before you accept a plea bargain offer that involves incarceration, there are a few important things to consider. Here's what they are.
How will your life be affected by incarceration?
Some parts of your life will continue outside of the prison during your incarceration, especially regarding your finances. Consider the length of incarceration time that the prosecutor is offering and take a look at your financial situation to determine if any of the following situations may come up:
- will your home be foreclosed on or will your family face eviction?
- will your bank close your accounts if they are inactive?
- will your vehicle insurance policy lapse?
- will your credit rating drop due to no payments being made?
If your foresee any of these types of situations during an incarceration, it's a good idea to establish a Power of Attorney with someone you trust. This individual will then be able to handle your finances and other situations that you state in the Power of Attorney documentation, such as keeping your bank account(s) active so they are not closed due to inactivity.
Will you plead guilty or no contendere?
As part of your plea bargain, you will plead guilty or no contendere, which means no contest. According to law, a federal judge must confirm that facts support a guilty plea before he or she accepts a plea bargain arrangement with a guilty plea attached. Conversely, if there is strong evidence that suggests that you are guilty, a judge may not willingly accept a plea bargain with a no contendere plea attached.
A no contest plea is not an admission of guilt and, therefore, cannot be used as such in a civil trial. If there is any reason for anyone to use the outcome of this case as evidence in a civil case, you will want to try to avoid pleading guilty as part of your plea bargain.
For example, if you are accused of kidnapping, which is a federal crime, the person you are accused of kidnapping may sue you in a civil court for pain and suffering. If you plead guilty to kidnapping, the individual can use that as your admission of guilt in a civil lawsuit; however, if you plead no contendere, the individual will need to find other evidence to prove that you kidnapped him or her.
What if the judge wants a harsher sentence?
Minimum sentencing requirements are typically used to determine sentencing, whether as a plea bargain or after being found guilty in a jury trial. However, judges also consider aggravating circumstances that may suggest the need for sentence enhancements. Aggravating circumstances include prior offenses. Therefore, if you have prior offenses, they could cause the judge to impose a harsher sentence.
The most important thing to understand about accepting a plea bargain is that you will not be given a chance to file an appeal if you do not agree with the judge's sentencing decision; however, you will be able to withdraw the plea bargain if you do not agree. But that would simply mean that you would head to court for a jury trial where you may have a greater sentence imposed if you are found guilty, especially since the prosecutor will likely have more time to gather more evidence against you. Due to all of the "what if's" and variables that are involved, it is crucial that you are open and honest with your criminal defense attorney when discussing your options.