The vast majority of criminal cases in the State of Arizona are resolved through a plea agreement between the prosecution and the defendant. A plea agreement is similar to a settlement agreement in a civil case in that it resolves the merits of the criminal case, results in a final order of disposition, and can be enforced by an order for specific performance if (for example) the prosecution breaks the agreement in some fashion.
Plea agreements must be entered into after careful thought, contemplation, and counsel. While a plea agreement may offer a defendant significant benefits, it can also lead to unintended consequences that are difficult to undo. Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions about plea agreements.
When Can I Enter Into a Plea Agreement?
In theory, a plea agreement can be entered into any time after a criminal investigation has begun and before a jury has returned a verdict of guilty or not guilty in your criminal case. Plea agreements have been crafted before criminal charges have even been filed (although, in most cases, such a plea agreement would require the prosecutor to file one or more charges against you).
In practice, plea agreements are usually reached early on in the case and before a case is set for trial. If you are thinking about attempting to reach a plea agreement with the prosecutor, you may wish to begin your negotiations early so that you have plenty of time to make counter-offers before your case goes to trial.
Does the Prosecutor Have to Offer Me a Plea Agreement?
No. The prosecutor is not under any legal or ethical obligation to offer you a plea agreement or to enter into a plea agreement with you. Even if you committed a crime with other co-defendants and the other co-defendants received plea agreements, the prosecutor may choose to withhold a plea agreement from you. The only limitation to the prosecutor’s discretion in this regard is that the prosecutor’s decision to withhold a plea offer from you cannot be based on your race, age, ethnicity, sex, or any other protected classification.
Will I Be Convicted of a Crime if I Enter Into a Plea Agreement?
Yes, you will be convicted of a crime (in most every case). A plea agreement is different from a pretrial diversion program. In a pretrial diversion program, the prosecutor agrees to suspend its prosecution of you pending your compliance with certain terms and conditions. If you fulfill your obligations under the terms of the program, the charge is dismissed against you. In a plea agreement, by contrast, you will most likely be required to plead to one or more criminal offenses in return for one or more concessions from the prosecutor. Be certain to have your plea agreement reduced to writing and carefully review this document before you sign as this document will specify what criminal charges you are required to plead to as part of the agreement.
What Concessions Will I Receive from the Prosecutor?
This can vary from case to case, so (again) it is important to read your plea agreement carefully. The prosecutor may agree to recommend the court impose a less severe sentence or may recommend that you be placed on some form of community supervision as opposed to being incarcerated. The prosecution may even agree to dismiss your charges in exchange for your cooperation and testimony against coconspirators or codefendants. For more information concerning plea agreements please contact the experienced criminal defense attorneys at Ariano & Associates, PLLC.