You have a constitutional right to go to trial on your criminal charges. However, almost all criminal cases are settled through plea negotiations. Plea negotiations can result in a plea agreement whereby the defendant pleads guilty or no contest, sometimes to a lesser charge, and accepts the penalty for the lesser charge in exchange for dismissal of a more serious charge with a harsher penalty. A skillful Tampa criminal defense attorney is often more likely to be able to negotiate a favorable plea bargain than a defendant can reach on his or her own. Sometimes a defendant harms his or her own case by talking directly to the prosecutor without an attorney. If you’re concerned about plea negotiations in Tampa, it is advisable to retain experienced, knowledgeable criminal defense counsel with a strong reputation among prosecutors. At Hanlon Law, we fight for the accused.Plea Negotiations
A Tampa criminal case starts when a police report describing criminal conduct is sent to the prosecutor’s office. The prosecutor decides whether to charge a crime, and sometimes it investigates on its own. Prosecutors can choose not to file charges where a witness is unreliable or the evidence is shaky. Generally, a prosecutor will only bring charges if she believes she can prove her case beyond a reasonable doubt.
If you didn’t commit the crime with which you’re charged or you think the prosecutor’s case is weak, you might be tempted to go to trial and hope the jury (or judge in a bench trial) acquits you. However, this is a huge risk. If you’re found guilty, you can be sentenced to the maximum time available for a particular criminal charge. Often the smarter route is to plead guilty or no contest to a lesser charge, in exchange for the prosecutor’s promise to recommend a less severe sentence. We can enter into plea negotiations to try to give you this option.A Criminal Defense Attorney’s Role in Plea Negotiations
While prosecutors may believe they have enough proof to establish that you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt even before they bring a formal charge against you, the prosecutor often decides to bring a charge based on the story developed by the police before seeing the whole picture. However, it’s the job of your defense attorney to find the weaknesses in the prosecution’s case, the areas that raise reasonable doubt, or that would likely do so when presented to a jury. It’s our job to show the prosecutor that there are weaknesses that the police may not have shared or known about when drafting the report.
If, for example, crucial evidence, such as drugs in a drug crime or blood alcohol concentration (BAC) were obtained by police officers in violation of your Fourth Amendment rights, it may be possible to get that evidence suppressed. In that case, the prosecutor’s rock-solid case may turn out to be a very difficult win. Similarly, if the witness in a sex crime case is not credible, and the prosecutor is made to understand this, the prosecutor is more likely to enter into plea negotiations and offer a lighter sex crime charge that carries a less harsh sentence. For example, where there is a lewd or lascivious charge levied against you, but the witness is not a credible witness or has nefarious motives for implicating you, the prosecutor may be willing to allow you to plead no contest to a child abuse charge rather than go to trial on the lewd or lascivious charge.
When a case isn’t solid, the prosecutor may agree to a plea bargain or agree to recommend a particular sentence instead of going to trial and risking an acquittal or hung jury or a conviction and a lighter sentence. Trials are not only risky for the defense; they are also risky for the prosecutor, particularly if the defense counsel is skilled and persuasive. Prosecutors may not be willing to go forward with a trial when there is a probability of losing.
Often the chances of a particular outcome in a case is mixed. Prosecutors may have just one strong charge against you and several weaker charges. Sometimes prosecutors will charge all of these charges, including the weaker ones, to improve their power during plea negotiations. They may use the possibility of a harsh penalty on the most serious charges to get you to accept a plea bargain. Your attorney can give you a realistic and early idea about how likely a conviction is on any of the charges. When a guilty verdict on a serious charge is likely, you can try to obtain a resolution through plea negotiations that minimize the penalties you face. The judge has control over the final sentence, but she is likely to listen to the prosecutor’s recommendation for a lower sentence or dismissal. It is important to be aware that charges like drug trafficking carry a mandatory minimum sentence. The judge will not allow your plea agreement to go forward if the plea agreement is for a term of incarceration that is less than the mandatory minimum.Consult a Seasoned Criminal Defense Attorney in Tampa
If you have questions about plea negotiations in Tampa, it is wise to retain a skillful criminal defense lawyer with a strong reputation. Our founder Will Hanlon has defended those facing criminal charges since 1994. Please contact us at (813) 228-7095 or via our online form.