A key tool prosecutors and defense attorneys use to resolve criminal cases is a plea agreement. This is a contract of sorts between the two “parties”, the prosecutor and the defendant, but is not binding upon the court unless it is accepted. Plea agreements ensure the orderly and timely administration of justice by allowing most cases to resolve without a bench (judge) or jury trial (where allowed).
For most defendants, the biggest reason for a plea is to obtain charges being dropped, a lesser sentence, or the risk and expense of a trial. However, a plea agreement is admission to a crime that results in a conviction, along with certain other terms being imposed that are not sometimes considered by defendant’s taking pleas. This blog post addresses four often misunderstood implications of a plea agreement, from the rather unique to mainstream and ordinary.
First, a plea may have other consequences that require a defendant to consider it carefully.1 For instance, in some cases, a criminal conviction will result in deportation of certain defendants who are not United States citizens. If this is a consideration, it may well be the case an immigration lawyer is also necessary to consult in conjunction with a criminal action.
Second, in some cases, a plea agreement will result in the property being forfeited or the criminal act being used in civil litigation. For instance, a reckless homicide plea may have implications for the defendant in a companion civil wrongful death case, meaning he or she may avoid or minimize jail time, but nevertheless, spend countless of thousands of dollars in civil court defending an action by the victim’s family.
Third, where a felony conviction results, the defendant is denied core constitutional rights bestowed on every citizen, sometimes permanently. These are the right to run for and hold public office; keep and bear arms; be a member of a jury, and/or vote. This occurs with some or all of these rights with every felony conviction, whether by a plea or a trial.
Fourth, in most cases, probation will result from a plea after a period of incarceration or in lieu of imprisonment. However, probation has wide discretion to impose rules reasonably related to probation and rehabilitation. These surprise many defendants and may include no consumption of alcohol, attendance at therapies ranging from anger management to substance abuse, and no possession of firearms (even with misdemeanor conviction). A violation of probation is established by a preponderance of the evidence; and where this occurs, the person given the grace of probation may be sent to prison to serve out the terms of probation.
For these and many other reasons, it is important to enter into a plea agreement cautiously and to understand all of the implications of the plea now, and potentially, for a lifetime, accepting there may be unknown risks. Plea agreements are indeed key tools for the benefit of the State and defendants, but they may have far greater implications than avoiding or limiting jail or dismissal or reduction of multiple charges.
Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. attorneys handle criminal cases throughout the State of Indiana, as well as criminal appeals. This blog post is written for general educational purposes and is not intended as legal advice or a solicitation for services. It is an advertisement.
- Sometimes the full consequences of a plea may not be apparent, and some of this risk is the trade off for the plea. The Indiana Supreme Court recently decided a key case on point. The Court ruled that a plea that contained the language or provision that the person who entered into a plea--that stated the defendant could not later seek to have it converted from a felony to a misdemeanor meant exactly that-- even though there was no statute that allowed this at the time of the plea. Thus, the enactment of a statute later that would allow the felony to be reduced to a misdemeanor was not available to this defendant because of the plea he accepted. Indiana v. Smith, III, 45S05-1611-CR-572 (2017).