At the federal level, rules for sentencing are very complicated. Many federal offenses have mandatory sentencing requirements. Prosecutors are working very hard non-stop to negotiate plea agreements that are favorable to the United States.
Attorney Michael J. Petro has decades of experience with the federal courts and will work with you to determine whether a plea agreement is fair and in your best interest.
Why Consider a Plea?
Under a plea agreement, a defendant typically agrees to plead guilty to a charge or multiple charges. In many cases, the charge is less serious than the charge for which the defendant would have stood trial without the agreement. In some cases, the charge may remain the same, but the prosecutor may agree to a specific sentence if the defendant agrees to plead guilty.
The result of a well considered plea agreement can be a lesser sentence, including reduced prison time — or probation — and reduced fines. In some cases, certain charges may be dismissed as part of the plea agreement. The plea agreement benefit to the prosecutor is the the conservation of law enforcement resources that are required to prepare for a complicated federal jury trial.
From the perspective of a defendant, a plea agreement can reduce the risk of a conviction and a lengthy sentence. Not every case can be easily defended, and prosecutors tend to accumulate significant evidence prior to trial. An experienced attorney can work with you to determine the likelihood of a conviction and advise you on whether a plea agreement is in your best interests.
Entering a Plea in Federal Court
If you believe a plea agreement is right for you, your attorney will negotiate with prosecutors to establish the terms. There are several ways in which you can plead with the court, including guilty, not guilty and nolo contendere — or no contest.
You also can enter a conditional plea of either nolo contendere or guilty. With a conditional plea, you reserve the right to ask an appellate court to review a decision on a pretrial motion, and you can withdraw the plea should you prevail in the appeal review.
Restrictions on Federal Plea Agreements
Additional restrictions may apply in plea bargain cases at the federal level. For example, federal prosecutors are not allowed to negotiate plea agreements that change any tax liability or civil liability — or that may affect national security — without any involved government agencies agreeing to the arrangement.
In addition, government attorneys may not threaten that they’ll seek the death penalty as a way to influence plea negotiations. They also are prohibited from accepting arrangements in which a defendant can maintain innocence at the same time as entering a guilty plea except in rare, specific cases.
Acceptance of a Plea
Following negotiations, you may wish to plead guilty or nolo contendere. Before you’re allowed to do so, the court may place you under oath and speak to you in open court to be sure you understand certain facts.
The court is required to inform you — and ensure that you understand — that you may plead not guilty and proceed to a jury trial. In addition, you have the right to be represented by a lawyer at every stage of the case, and you have the right to question witnesses who testify against you. You also have the right to avoid incriminating yourself and to present evidence on your behalf.
The court will inform you that if the court accepts your plea, you’ll waive those rights. You also will be advised of each charge against you, the possible penalties, and other consequences such as forfeiture or deportation. You will be asked to verify that your plea is voluntary and that no threats were made to coerce you to enter the plea.
After determining that a factual basis for the plea exists and that the plea is voluntary, the court will a ruling accepting the plea by the court.
An Experienced Attorney Can Help You Negotiate a Plea
If you are facing federal charges, you need to give yourself options by working with an experienced attorney who can guide you through the process of either going to trial or negotiating a plea agreement. Contact the office of Michael J. Petro for immediate assistance.