There has been significant national and local focus on rights of persons accused of crimes, recently, especially in the subject area of Plea Bargains, which are negotiated settlements between prosecutors and defendants/attorneys with the approval of the courtroom judge. Today’s emphasis will be about strategic advantages of plea bargains in certain cases, focusing on Los Angeles Courts. Importantly, any plea agreement in a criminal case should be carefully reviewed by an experienced Los Angeles Plea Bargain Attorney, and should never be undertaken without representation in court.
Why do Los Angeles criminal cases usually resolve with plea bargains?
There are thousands of cases heard in Los Angeles Criminal Courts each day. There are a limited amount of courtrooms, judges, and financial resources available to the system, because of extensive budgetary cuts during the past two years. Only a small number of criminal cases currently go to trial; and because of the stakes in criminal cases, those accused of criminal charges are entitled to a jury.
A jury trial effectively “ties up” a court room, and generally requires reassignment of its cases to other court rooms, creating somewhat of a gridlock in the justice system. Therefore, prosecutors generally prioritize cases which have strong, admissible evidence, as well as serious violations. In extremely serious cases, the prosecutor may not offer any plea bargain, i.e. certain homicide or assault cases.
However, the vast majority of cases are resolved by plea bargains. These are generally carried out as agreed-upon sentences between the parties, with the concurrence of the judge. In some cases, the prosecutor will agree to a specific minimum sentence, while in other cases the prosecutor may agree to dismiss more serious charges if the accused person pleads to a less-serious charge. While the judge does not usually have the right to offer different charges without the concurrence of the prosecutor, a judge may undercut the prosecutor’s offer, i.e. reduction of wobbler charges (felony to misdemeanor level), suspended fines, jail, or eliminating the requirement of probation. However, most judges & prosecutors work in relative harmony, which discourages deviations from standard sentences.
Los Angeles Plea Bargain Scenario
Below is a hypothetical example of a Los Angeles Superior Court case:
“Michael” is accused of shoplifting items valued at $70 from a supermarket in Los Angeles. He was detained by store security officers and made statements to them that he intended to steal the items. He is 20 years old, attends college, has never been in trouble with the law, and wants to be a teacher when he graduates. Michael is represented by an attorney, and the case is being prosecuted by the LA City Attorney’s Office.
Michael’s attorney regularly handles theft cases in this courthouse. He has indicated to Michael that he will use his best efforts to resolve the case, without promising a specific result at the time his was retained (the California State Bar ethics rules do not allow defense attorneys to guarantee an outcome of a criminal case.) The attorney has carefully evaluated the evidence and believes that there is a strong case against Michael. There is no opportunity for a Civil Compromise in this case, based on the attorney’s communications with the supermarket. Michael’s attorney has a few strategies, however.
While a standard prosecution offer in this type of case commonly requires a theft conviction, probation, large fines and community service, Michael’s attorney is familiar with some other alternatives which are considered on a case-by-case basis in this court. Michael’s attorney prepares for a meeting with the prosecutor, and has collected documentation which suggests Michael has a promising future, but for this case and a momentary lapse of better judgment.
Michael’s attorney meets the prosecutor, and presents a different perspective of Michael, as well as comparisons with scenarios when the prosecutor considered plea alternatives. Michael’s attorney makes a compelling presentation, and the prosecutor is now willing to agree to a dismissal of the theft charge, with a plea to an infraction trespass violation.
Michael and his attorney meet to discuss the offer. Michael and his attorney discuss the facts and related laws of his case. The attorney then explains the options:
1. Michael can have a jury trial; however, substantial evidence substantiates the charges against him. Michael’s attorney indicates that he believes that Michael would be convicted at a jury trial.
2. Michael can enter a plea directly to the judge. In Michael’s situation, the judge would not have discretion to dismiss the theft charge on his own motion. Thus, this is not a suitable choice.
3. Michael can accept the prosecutor’s offer of dismissing the shoplifting charge, and entering a plea of no contest to an infraction violation of trespass.
Michael is inclined to accept the prosecutor’s offer, but first, Michael’s attorney first advises Michael of his constitutional and statutory rights, including:
1. A right to a jury trial,
2. A right to confront witnesses at trial,
3. A right against self-incrimination (a no contest plea is an incriminating statement), and,
4. A right to produce/present evidence.
Michael’s attorney also researches professional licensing issues related to teacher’s credentials and criminal cases, and provides related information about the consequences of theft and non-theft related convictions. Michael then carefully considers the options, as well as the possible consequences of each, and decides to enter a plea bargain to the infraction charge of Trespass, receiving a dismissal of the theft charge.
As you would expect, every criminal case is unique, as are the ultimate outcomes. Any decision to agree to a Los Angeles plea bargain, or not, should be weighed very carefully. It may be the correct decision for some people, but the wrong one for others. Your attorney should explain to you all of your options, as well as the underlying reasoning for why one choice may be more suitable for you, prior to any resolution in your case.
Copyright © 2016-7 Law Offices of George Kita. All Rights Reserved