Did you know that in any specific year, 98% of federal criminal cases are resolved with a plea bargain 1? This is due in large part to overcrowding in jails and prisons, plus the need for courts to save time and money.
But while a plea agreement might sound appealing to defendants, it’s rarely in your best interest to immediately accept what the prosecution offers.
As a criminal defense lawyer with over 25 years of experience, John E. MacDonald has seen many clients through negotiating plea agreement deals in Rhode Island. That’s why we put together this article answering the questions we hear most often in our law office.
Keep reading to learn more about plea agreement deals, how they work, the pros/cons, and deciding whether it’s the best choice for your case.
What is a Plea Agreement, and How Does It Work in Rhode Island?
A plea agreement, also known as a plea bargain, is when the prosecution offers the defendant a “deal” in exchange for pleading guilty without going to trial. The general idea is that, since a judge can sentence you to the maximum penalties for any given charge, a plea deal guarantees less severe consequences.
And the prosecution benefits because US courts just don’t have enough time or resources to take every single criminal case to trial.
In Rhode Island, a plea agreement works similarly to other states. After you’re formally charged, the prosecution is likely to approach you with an offer. From there, you and your attorney negotiate the agreement to win a favorable outcome.
Ideally, both sides come to an agreement and you never go to trial. You’re instead sentenced according to the terms of the deal.
Types of Plea Agreements
Depending on the nature of your charges, your plea agreement can take one of several shapes. Here are a few common aspects in Rhode Island plea deals:
- Charge reductions. The prosecutor may offer to reduce the severity of your charges in exchange for your guilty plea. Felonies can be downgraded to misdemeanors, and other charges can be adjusted so you don’t face the harshest consequences.
- Sentence recommendations. Your attorney and the prosecution may come to an agreement about your sentence after negotiations. Basically, both sides tell the judge they’re in agreement on how much time you should serve and other penalties. The judge can still reject or modify the deal, though.
- Agreements for alternative sentencing options. You may be able to work out a plea agreement that doesn’t include jail time. Instead, you’d be required to attend drug/alcohol treatment, complete probation, provide community service, or other alternative programs.
Understanding the Plea Agreement Process
The plea agreement process is quite similar to the way you’d negotiate anything. Each side goes back and forth with offers and counteroffers, strategically adjusting based on the strength of the evidence.
If the prosecution feels they have a strong case, they won’t be willing to budge much on their terms. But if they know a conviction won’t be easy, you and your attorney will have far more leverage to work with.
The process itself can be formal or informal. Negotiations can happen by phone, email, during in-person meetings, or even in the courtroom. Sometimes it’s a quick discussion, but negotiations can also last up to the night before the trial is slated to begin.
And when a prosecutor sees that you have expert legal representation, it’s far more likely that your plea offer will be favorable to you.
Once both sides agree, your trial will be canceled, along with any pretrial hearings. You’ll then proceed straight to a sentencing hearing, where the judge reviews the terms of your plea agreement and checks that you understand the terms.
If everything is in order, your plea deal will be approved and the terms are imposed immediately.
How Do I Negotiate a Plea Agreement with the Prosecution?
When it comes to plea agreement deals in Rhode Island, it’s unwise to negotiate on your own. Though the US justice system operates under presumption of innocence, the prosecution knows you’re feeling pressured.
And frankly, they may use your discomfort to their advantage. For example, it’s quite common to be offered a plea agreement early on which then changes as your case unfolds. If new information that’s in your favor comes to light, the terms of your deal might improve.
But negotiating the best possible outcome requires help from an aggressive, skilled Rhode Island criminal defense lawyer who knows what to look for and which motions to file. After all, you just don’t know what you don’t know.
If you’re hoping to negotiate a plea agreement with the prosecution, call the RI Criminal Defense Law Office of John E. MacDonald, Inc now at 401.421.1440. We’re available 24/7 to discuss an initial consultation for your case.
Potential Benefits and Consequences of Plea Agreement Deals
The potential benefits of accepting a plea agreement deal in Rhode Island are:
- Winning a potentially lighter sentence. It’s possible that your plea agreement will have you spend far less time in jail/prison versus going to trial. This can be a great way to mitigate your sentence without taking a chance on the jury’s verdict.
- Reduced charges. A plea agreement sometimes includes reducing some or all of your charges. For example, felonies may be dropped down to misdemeanors. This can preserve your future eligibility for housing and career options.
- Saving money. Typically, negotiating a plea agreement with an expert attorney by your side is faster than the full trial process. So you may spend less money in attorney fees by opting for a plea deal instead of taking your case to trial.
And the possible consequences of accepting one include:
- Getting a potentially worse sentence. Sometimes, the prosecution offers up a plea deal because they know they don’t have the evidence to convict you. But of course, they won’t share that information with you—they’ll just offer you the deal and leave it at that.
- Pleading guilty. With most plea deals, you’re required to plead guilty even if you are truly innocent. You won’t get the satisfaction of hearing a “Not guilty” verdict, and the charges may appear on future background checks.
- Plea deals aren’t necessarily binding. The court isn’t required to accept the plea deal you and the prosecution agree on. It’s possible the court will reject the agreement altogether, or require changes before your case is resolved. If you’re taking the agreement because you want this to be over fast, the proceedings may still drag on.
How Do I Know if a Plea Agreement is the Right Choice for My Case?
It’s hard to determine on your own if a plea agreement is the right choice for your case. It’s true that you can’t know what the jury might decide if you don’t take the plea deal. On the other hand, going this route means you don’t have the ability to be found innocent of the charges.
Many defendants in the US justice system choose to accept a plea agreement simply because they know exactly what consequences they’re agreeing to. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right choice for you.
The best way to make this decision is by working with a skilled, knowledgeable Rhode Island criminal defense attorney who aggressively advocates in your stead.
When you work with a lawyer like John E. MacDonald, that’s exactly what you’ll get.
John E. MacDonald has 25+ years of experience seeing clients through both state and federal criminal cases. You see, very few cases actually go through a dramatic trial like you see on TV. In reality, an expert attorney will often challenge and negotiate with the prosecution to achieve a desirable outcome.
And as a citizen, you just can’t be expected to know every single avenue available to you in terms of resolving your case. You need someone who knows the legal system, how the prosecution thinks, and what motions are best suited to reducing your penalties.
If you or a loved one has been offered a plea agreement in Rhode Island or want to learn more about negotiating one, contact our law office today at 401.421.1440. Don’t leave your future and your freedom up to chance.