Plea bargaining refers to the situation where a Defendant agrees to plead guilty or no contest to certain charges in return for certain promises from the prosecution. If you have been charged with a crime in Utah and are considering a plea bargain, there are a few things you should be aware of before entering your guilty plea.
1. Waiver of Rights
Before agreeing to plead guilty to anything, you should be aware that by pleading guilty you are waiving all of your trial rights including trial by jury, right to confront your witnesses, etc. Often the judge in your case will read you the rights you are waiving or have you sign a written waiver form. You never have to take a plea bargain, you always have the right to trial.
2. Voluntary and Intelligent
If you will be pleading guilty, you must enter your plea voluntarily and intelligently. This means you should not enter your plea under coercion or duress and you must understand the nature of the charges against you. You should be fully aware of the elements necessary to prove the charges against you and the possible maximum penalty and any mandatory minimum penalties. A guilty plea is not involuntary merely because it was entered in response to the prosecution’s threats of more serious charges or other potential penalties. But, if a third party is promising you things in return for plea of guilty, or threatening you with harm if you don’t plead guilty, you should seek legal counsel and not enter a guilty plea.
3. Judge Not Bound
A plea bargain will be enforced against the prosecutor and the defendant but not against the judge. This is a crucial principle to understand. Even though the prosecutor may have agreed not to recommend jail time as part of the plea agreement, the judge may not be bound to follow the agreement. Ultimately, the judge could impose a harsher sentence against a Defendant despite contrary terms in the plea agreement. This is seldom the case but always a risk and something every defendant should be made aware of.
4. Having Counsel
Before accepting any plea agreement, everyone should first seek advice from an attorney on the potential terms of the agreement. This can help avoid pitfalls and ensure you fully understand what you are agreeing to. To speak with an Ogden Criminal Defense Lawyer at our office today, call 801-823-1200. We can review your potential plea agreement and assist in making sure you fully understand the process, your rights, and other implications.