If the federal prosecutor and defendant are able to reach a resolution, then the parties will enter into a plea agreement. A plea agreement outlines the case details and obligations of the parties. It is brokered through the defendant's attorney based on negotiations with the prosecutor. Plea agreement negotiations can occur at any stage of the case, including the investigation stages.
A plea agreement must be reviewed by the defendant and the attorney. The defendant is required to sign the plea agreement acknowledging the terms, obligations, and waiver of their rights.
For example, a standard federal plea agreement will contain waivers of: (1) a jury trial; (2) right to confront and cross-examine witnesses; (3) right to subpoena witnesses and present a defense; and (4) the right not to testify. Additionally, the plea agreement will contain the charges in which the defendant is pleading guilty to, the maximum sentence the defendant can receive for the charge(s), and what the prosecutor is required to prove in order to find the defendant guilty if the case were to proceed to trial.
Some plea agreements contain cooperation provisions that require a defendant to cooperate with the government's ongoing investigations or pending cases. This requires a defendant to testify before the grand jury, at trial, or be questioned by federal agents.
Plea agreements will have benefits to the accused. It can allow a defendant to plead to a single charge and receive a lighter sentence. Namely, it can reward a defendant for taking early responsibility in exchange for preserving government resources and judicial expenses. Plea agreements can also allow a defendant to plead to a lesser charge – perhaps a misdemeanor offense versus a felony. Furthermore, a plea agreement usually ends the investigation and prohibits the government from charging a defendant with any additional allegations they might discover.
Plea agreements also carry some disadvantages. First, once an accused pleads guilty pursuant to a plea agreement, they will be unable to withdraw their plea except under certain circumstances. Second, the defendant will have a federal conviction on their record for life. And third, there is no guarantee that a judge will honor the plea agreement. A judge has the ability to sentence a defendant to more than what the defendant had agreed with the prosecution.
Plea agreements have a tendency to bring closure to the accused because it carries some level of certainty in the criminal process. Engaging in plea negotiations with federal prosecutors is an extremely important process that should only be handled by a competent lawyer. If you have been charged with a federal crime and you are seeking legal representation, then contact us to schedule a free consultation with an experienced federal criminal defense attorney.