Michigan Criminal Defense Lawyer Explains Plea Bargaining
If you are facing criminal charges, the criminal justice system seem overwhelming. It doesn’t matter if you’re facing drunk driving, drug charges, sex crimes or white collar crimes in the State of Michigan, the same system of felony criminal procedures apply.
Many Michigan DUI charges and other criminal cases like sexual assaults, child pornography and drug crimes, are resolved through a process called plea bargaining. A plea bargain is what happens after your attorney discusses your case with the prosecutor and explains why it is appropriate to amend or reduce the charges you are facing with the court. Sometimes the reduction in charges to a lower criminal offense will lessen the impact on your drivers license and possibly jail time as well.
The criminal defense team will be advised of any plea(s) offered by the prosecutor even if your lawyer doesn’t think you will accept the offer or if it’s in your best interest. This is because the rules of professional ethics applicable to criminal defense attorneys near me require all offers of settlement to be disclosed to you. The top criminal defense attorneys in Michigan follow the rules of ethics meticulously.
When Does Plea Bargaining Begin?
Plea agreements are usually reached only after criminal discovery is complete and all viable defenses to your DUI case have been thoroughly explored. We need to know your version of events too and compare this with what the prosecutors version of events. It is rare for a client’s story and the story of the police and prosecutor to match. Some of these differences can be important, and when properly brought before the court, can lead to a reduction or even dismissal of the case.
Before you are ready to plead guilty your case has usually moved through several other stages, including the arraignment and one or more pretrials. If your case is a felony, then you have a right to a preliminary exam, also called a probable cause hearing.
If the judge decides that one or more of the charges lack probable cause, then these can be dismissed also. Probable cause is a low standard of proof, so most charges are not dismissed. Instead, they are sent to the higher court for trial.
Often, factual or legal weaknesses can be developed during the preliminary exam, and these weaknesses can form the basis for later plea negotiations.
Also, depending on the nature of the charges and the strengths or weaknesses of the evidence, your lawyer may have filed one or more motions asking that evidence be suppressed, or even asking for the case to be dismissed. There also may have been one or more evidentiary hearings.
An evidentiary hearing is one where witnesses are called and cross-examined by your lawyer. A judge will grant an evidentiary hearing where there appears to be an issue of fact or law that must be explored and resolved before the case can proceed to trial.
What Can You Do to Help with Plea Bargaining?
If your case involves alcohol or drug abuse, or is a sex crime, your lawyer may suggest that you become involved in therapy and treatment, including 12 step support groups. The prosecutor and the judge will want to see that you are making efforts to make sure you won’t commit other crimes in the future.
Also, before engaging in plea negotiations however, your lawyer may have asked you to obtain character letters from friends and family, co-workers and professionals involved in your treatment. Your lawyer may also suggest that you undergo one or more psychological evaluations, such as a substance use assessment in drunk driving and other alcohol and drug related crimes, and a psychosexual evaluation where charges involve allegations of sexual assault or child pornography. These items can be provided to the prosecutor as part of the negotiations.
Additional items that may be presented to the prosecutor include expert witness reports, reports from private investigators and/or the results of legal research that support a modification of the charges.
What Rights Am I Giving Up by Pleading Guilty?
The most serious thing you give up is your right to trial. There is always some modicum of risk associated with trial, and you should discuss these trial risks with your lawyer to. The criminal defense lawyers the Barone Defense Law Firm never recommend that our clients plead guilty unless the plea offer is of sufficient value to give up the right to trial.
This is because by pleading guilty you are giving up your constitutional right to trial, and all the ancillary rights that go along with it. However, we will help you make the right decision about going to trial or pleading guilty.
Making the Decision to Plead Guilty
In most instances, if you are pleading guilty it is because the prosecutor has offered to modify or “amend” the original charges in your case. This usually means reducing them to something less serious. You have indicated that you are willing to plead guilty to these amended or reduced charges in exchange for the prosecutor’s promise that the original more serious charges will be dismissed.
This plea bargain is reduced to a written motion sometimes called a plea agreement which will be signed by the prosecutor, your attorney, and the judge. Collectively, this process is called plea bargaining.
Once we learn of possible plea bargains, we will discuss possible all the various benefits and drawbacks of the offer before we get back with the prosecutor. This is because we need to know what plea offers will be acceptable to you. Then we can tell the prosecutor that you are willing to plead guilty to the amended charged. Few prosecutors are willing to make an offer unless they know you will actually accept what is offered and plead guilty.
To help you decide, read an example of one of our cases where felony gun and assault charges where reduced to misdemeanors. There are many other examples on our case wins page.