Getting into trouble with the law in Texas disrupts your life in more ways than one. Whether you are innocent or guilty, however, you have a right to a defense. The criminal justice system, though flawed, offers options. Plea deals or plea bargains can be an option. The important thing if offered a plea deal is not to agree to anything without a criminal defense attorney representing you. Plea deals can be great, but the prosecutor will only offer what favors them and not you.
What is a Plea Deal?
In a plea deal, or plea bargain, the defendant agrees to plead guilty to a criminal charge in exchange for certain concessions from the prosecutor. For example, the prosecutor may seek a lesser sentence, reduce the seriousness of the charge, or withdraw some of the original charges.
By accepting a plea deal, your case won't go to trial. A plea deal is effectively a guilty plea and an acceptance of the allegations against you. Once a plea deal has been accepted and you enter a plea, the judge will then sentence you.
It's difficult to withdraw a plea once you have accepted a plea deal. But in some situations, you may be able to enter a conditional plea. This occurs when the judge rules against you in a pre-trial motion, and you want to appeal this ruling but do not want to go to a jury trial. If you succeed in your appeal against the interim ruling, you can then withdraw your plea.
Types of Plea Deals
Plea deals really do not come in "types" but they can be categorized according to the concessions offered. Typically, these concessions in return for a guilty plea:
- Reduced number of charges
- Lesser sentence
- Downgraded offense
- Diversion program (mostly for first-time offenders)
A plea deal could involve other concessions, too. Much of it depends on the circumstances. A criminal defense lawyer will be able to ensure the concessions fit and favor you. This also includes consequences, like reduced jail or prison time.
Plea Deal Process in Texas
The plea deal process generally begins in the early part of a criminal case. The prosecutor weighs certain factors before offering a plea deal. These factors can include:
- The seriousness of the crime(s)
- The evidence (e.g., how much or little there is and the quality of it)
- Potential for recidivism -- how likely you are to re-offend
- Criminal history
- Level of cooperation (e.g., you give information on another possibly related case)
A criminal defense attorney may even approach the prosecutor about a plea deal, and this could occur at any time, whether it's after charges are filed or a jury has begun deliberations.
Court Approval and Plea Agreements in Texas
A judge must approve a plea deal. Once you have reached an agreement with the prosecution, the judge hears the details of the deal. The judge will ask you to confirm you are entering the plea voluntarily.
The judge will also confirm you understand that your plea requires you to waive several constitutional rights, which include:
- The right against self-incrimination
- The right to a jury trial
- The right to confront witnesses
- The right to counsel (if you're unrepresented)
After hearing the details of the plea and asking you these questions, a judge may accept or reject the plea deal.
What to Consider before Accepting a Plea Deal in Texas
You should only accept a plea deal after receiving professional legal advice.
Facing a criminal charge can be stressful. So, it can be tempting to accept the first plea deal the prosecution offers you to put an end to the matter. But plea deals are a negotiation process and, with the help of our skilled criminal defense attorney in San Antonio, you may be able to reach an agreement that's more favorable to you.
Once a judge has accepted a plea deal, it's very difficult to withdraw your guilty plea. There are limited circumstances in which you can do so, such as where you were coerced into it or where you were unrepresented and did not fully understand the consequences of your plea.
Knowing the pros and cons of the plea deal is probably the best way to consider whether you should accept or decline an agreement. Your criminal defense attorney should be able to lay these out for you in a way you understand, what the consequences are, and what the alternatives are. At u, we will fight for the best possible outcome in your unique case.