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Plea Bargains in California Criminal Cases

A “plea” in a criminal case in California is where the defendant answers to the criminal charges against them. This generally involves responding: guilty, not guilty, or no contest. A plea bargain is a type of arrangement between the defendant and the prosecutor where the defendant pleads guilty or no contest to charges under certain conditions.

Whether to accept a plea bargain depends on a number of factors, including the evidence against you, potential penalties, and what type of deal your defense lawyer can negotiate. If you have any other questions about plea bargains, please contact Gorelick Law Offices for a free consultation to talk about your rights and whether a plea bargain is the best option for you.

What is a Plea Bargain in California?

If someone is arrested in California, the prosecutor will generally charge them with multiple offenses or the most serious charges. When the defendant first hears these charges and the possible penalties associated with these charges, the defendant may feel scared that they are going to go to jail or prison, even if they didn't do anything wrong. This is a common tactic with prosecutors and the first step to trying to get a plea bargain.

Both the prosecutor and the defendant may then negotiate to get certain charges dropped or reduced. The defendant will agree to plead guilty to certain charges and waive their right to a trial in exchange for getting a lesser penalty. This includes:

  • Reducing the number of charges or pleading to a lesser offense;
  • Pleading down “wobblers” from a possible felony to a misdemeanor;
  • Getting a more lenient sentence; and
  • Getting probation instead of jail time.

However, when the prosecutor makes claims of multiple criminal charges, the prosecutor may know that they cannot prove all the charges. However, by holding up a long list of charges, it puts the prosecutor in a better bargaining position. Facing multiple criminal charges, the defendant is more likely to accept pleading guilty to some of the charges in exchange for having the others dropped.

Unfortunately, many individuals do not get an experienced criminal defense attorney before deciding to accept a plea bargain. Public defenders are often overworked and are juggling dozens or hundreds of cases at any time. A public defender may not have the time or resources to properly defend your case and suggest accepting a plea bargain.

Should You Accept a Plea Deal?

The most important decision you can make when facing criminal charges is whether or not to accept a plea deal. There are both benefits and drawbacks to a plea deal. It is important to consider all your options and talk to your lawyer before making this decision.

Part of a plea bargain involves reviewing and signing a Plea Form, which includes notice of:

  • Charges and maximum sentencing,
  • The plea agreement,
  • Consequences of the plea,
  • Rights to an attorney, and
  • Other constitutional rights, and
  • Warnings.

Benefits of a Plea Deal

If you decide to take your case to trial instead of accepting a plea deal, a trial may take days, weeks, or even months. A long trial may be expensive, time-consuming, and is always unpredictable. Jury decisions do not always come down on the side of justice. An innocent person can still be found guilty of something they did not do.

Accepting a plea deal provides some level of predictability for the accused, knowing what their penalty will be and generally avoiding the maximum jail time. Taking a chance and going to trial can result in being found guilty of additional charges (which would have been dropped) and facing the maximum sentencing.

Negatives of a Plea Bargain

However, there are a number of drawbacks to accepting a plea bargain. An innocent person may not be able to accept pleading guilty for something they did not do. Even if there appears to be evidence against them, a plea bargain has the effect of admitting guilt.

Even with a plea bargain, there are collateral consequences of any guilty plea. The prosecutor may not explain all the consequences of pleading guilty. This may include difficulty finding a job, problems finding housing, or losing the right to own a firearm.

Many immigrants may not be aware that a guilty plea may constitute a deportable offense. The prosecutor may promise a short jail sentence or probation for a guilty plea. However, pleading guilty to certain “crimes of moral turpitude” may result in removal proceedings if the individual is not a U.S. citizen.

Pleading guilty may also mean fewer options for an appeal. Even after a criminal trial where the defendant is found guilty, the defendant still has the possibility to appeal the court's decision. However, there are generally few options for the defendant once he or she has pleaded guilty.

What Criminal Charges are Eligible for a Plea Bargain?

Almost any arrest in California may provide an option for a plea bargain. This includes misdemeanor and felony offenses. Even if the prosecutor does not reduce the number of charges, a plea bargain can generally be made in exchange for asking for a reduced or lesser offense and sentence.

Many criminal offenses in California are considered “wobblers.” A wobbler is a crime that can be charged as a felony or a misdemeanor. One of the most common options for defendants negotiating a plea deal is to have the prosecutor reduce the charge from a felony to a wobbler. Even if the crime is the same, a misdemeanor conviction generally has fewer restrictions than a felony conviction.

Plea Bargains in California DUI Cases

Some of the most common charges that can benefit from a plea bargain involve driving under the influence (DUI). A conviction for a DUI can result in penalties including jail time, fines, installation of an ignition interlock device (IID), and a suspended license. However, your criminal defense lawyer may be able to negotiate to plead the charges down to:

  • Wet reckless, or
  • Dry reckless, or
  • Traffic infraction.

A wet reckless or dry reckless may mean you can keep your drivers' license, have a reduced probation period, face lower fines, and avoid an IID. However, a wet reckless will still count as a prior offense when calculating multiple DUIs (a dry reckless will not).

When arrested or facing criminal charges, the defendant has to decide whether to plead guilty or take the case to trial. When a person is facing their first run-in with the criminal court system, they may not know how to respond to the charges against them or whether pleading guilty or no contest may be a better option. If you want to know your rights and legal options are after an arrest, talk to your experienced East Bay criminal defense attorney.

East Bay Criminal Defense Attorney

Lynn Gorelick has more than 30 years of criminal defense experience defending her clients facing misdemeanor and felony criminal charges in the East Bay. She understands how to negotiate with the prosecutor to get a deal to reduce or eliminate jail time. Lynn Gorelick will also fight the charges against her clients when a plea deal is not in their interest. If you are facing criminal charges in Alameda County and want to know your options, contact Gorelick Law Offices today.

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