If you have been charged with a white-collar crime, you may have heard about accepting a plea bargain as an alternative to taking your case to a criminal trial by a jury. Your white-collar crime lawyer can help you understand how a plea bargain will work and whether you should consider it if you get an offer. Read more to learn about the plea bargain process.
Ask a White-Collar Crime Lawyer: How Does a Plea Bargain Work?
What Is a Plea Bargain?
A plea bargain is an agreement between the prosecution (the state) and the defendant (the person accused of a crime) to make compromises in sentencing or charging in exchange for the defendant pleading guilty or no contest to the crime. This eliminates uncertainty in charging and sentencing and decreases the length of time spent in litigation.
Pleading Guilty vs Pleading No Contest
Plea bargains for white-collar crimes work the same way as those for other crimes (such as violent ones). Pleading guilty is a defendant’s full admission that they committed the crime. Pleading no contest, also called “nolo contendere,” is a less direct way of admitting guilt by accepting the charges while declining to state explicitly that they committed the crime in question.
Both pleas enter into a criminal record, but often pleading no contest cannot be used against a defendant as evidence during a civil trial while pleading guilty can. Sometimes pleading no contest is not an option and a plea bargain is offered only with the condition of a guilty plea. Ultimately, the judge determines whether they accept or reject a plea bargain and will adjust sentencing and charging based on that.
Charging and Sentencing
Plea bargains are often broken into general categories: charge bargaining and sentence bargaining. Sentence bargaining occurs when the prosecutor agrees to recommend a lighter sentence to the judge in exchange for a guilty or no contest plea, while charge bargaining is a deal that the prosecutors offer to either drop or reduce some charges in exchange for the plea.
Uncertainty in charging and sentencing is a fundamental component of taking a case to trial. Even a defendant with a good case could end up with a harsher sentence than expected, especially if they have more than one charge brought against them. A plea bargain eliminates uncertainty by explicitly stating the reduction in charges or sentencing.
Considering a Plea Bargain in a White Collar Crime
You have the legal right to a trial, so you are not required to take a plea bargain. Accepting a plea bargain is essentially an admission of guilt, so you should consider one if and when you think you are likely to be convicted. You must also consider how severe your sentence would likely be for your crime and the number of charges being brought against you.
White-collar crimes encompass a variety of criminal activities, ranging from embezzlement to fraud. These crimes often involve evidence that is difficult to analyze and can take years to investigate. White-collar crime defendants are often in better positions to negotiate due to the ambiguous and non-violent nature of their crimes.
Benefits of a Plea Bargain
Plea bargains carry benefits for both prosecutors and defendants. Trials are expensive, lengthy, and involve uncertainty for both sides of the case. White-collar crimes can take an especially long time, so offering a plea bargain both frees the prosecution to focus on other cases and releases the defendant from what could be years of waiting for a verdict.
Defendants benefit from reduced sentencing and elimination of the possibility of harsher verdicts found at trial. Prosecutors benefit from offering plea bargains when they don’t have enough solid evidence and are uncertain if they could secure a conviction at trial.
When Will I Be Offered a Plea Bargain?
A plea bargain can be negotiated at any point during criminal proceedings. If you have committed a white-collar crime, you may have already been offered a plea shortly after being arrested. Or, your case could go all the way to trial, and you could be offered a plea bargain when the jury is in deliberations. A Houston white-collar crimes lawyer can help you negotiate any plea deals you may be offered at any point during the criminal proceedings.
Accepting a Plea Bargain
Before accepting a plea bargain, you must ensure that the offer is the best deal. Sometimes the compromises in a plea bargain involve more than simply pleading guilty or no contest, for example, the prosecution may require you to agree to testify against someone else as part of the deal. You must weigh the benefits and drawbacks of a plea bargain before waiving your right to a trial.
Now you know more about how a plea bargain works and can make more informed decisions about your case. If you have been charged with a white-collar crime and are considering accepting a plea bargain, you should speak to an attorney who can help you understand more about the specifics of the deal and your case to consider before you proceed.