If you were recently charged with a criminal offense for the first time, you are likely feeling overwhelmed. As a defendant, you will need to make a number of critical decisions over the course of your case, some of which won’t be easy to make. One of the most important of those decisions will come about if the prosecutor offers you a plea agreement. At that point, you will need to decide if you want to consider taking a plea agreement at all, and if you are interested in accepting an agreement, if the agreement offered to you is in your best interest. Of course, you should never accept a plea agreement without consulting with your own defense attorney; however, a Murfreesboro criminal lawyer offers some general guidance with regard to plea agreements and discusses some of the factors you should likely consider when making your decision.
The Criminal Prosecution Process
If you have never before been a defendant in a criminal prosecution you may feel a bit lost and confused at times. It helps to understand some basics about the prosecution of a criminal case. As you may already know, the State (via the prosecuting attorney) has the burden in a criminal prosecution to prove the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In simple terms, that means that the prosecutor has to prove your guilt – you do not have to prove your innocence. Nevertheless, the majority of criminal cases are not decided at trial. Ultimately, there are three ways in which a criminal prosecution can end once charges have been officially filed: dismissal of all charges by the State; trial; or entering into a guilty plea agreement.
The State could be forced to dismiss the charges against you if it turns out that there are evidentiary problems, such as evidence obtained as a result of an illegal search and seizure or simply insufficient evidence to secure a conviction. The State might also dismiss the charges after you complete a diversion program.
A bench or jury trial will also resolve the case against you. A bench trial (also referred to as a “trial by judge”) means that the case will be presented to a judge only who will decide your fate whereas a jury trial is presented to a jury made up of members of the community who will decide your fate.
The majority of criminal cases, however, are resolved through a guilty plea agreement entered into between the State of Tennessee and the defendant.
What You Need to Know about Guilty Plea Agreements
Without question, the most important thing you need to know about a guilty plea agreement is to never enter into one without first consulting a criminal defense attorney! As the name implies, a guilty plea agreement is, after all, an agreement. As such, a guilty plea is subject to negotiation. The prosecutor’s job is to represent the State of Tennessee. The prosecutor does that by trying to get you to agree to the most serious offenses and the harshest terms. With that in mind, it should be obvious why you need an experienced criminal attorney on your side during the negotiations.
Beyond those important basics, some additional things to think about when deciding whether or not to accept a guilty plea agreement, including:
- You are NEVER required to accept a guilty plea agreement.
- You must be prepared to accept, in open court in front of the judge, that you are guilty of the charge(s) that are included in the plea agreement. You cannot maintain your innocence and accept a guilty plea agreement.
- You must agree with the factual basis (details that support your guilt) that is read into the record at the guilty plea hearing.
- The judge must accept the guilty plea agreement. If the judge doesn’t believe you are entering into the agreement knowingly and voluntarily it won’t be accepted.
- Once accepted, your case is over and you must live with the terms of the agreement.
- You cannot appeal a guilty plea agreement. It is possible to file a motion to withdraw the agreement after it has been accepted; however, the legal standard used in this case presents a high hurdle to overcome, meaning it is very difficult to get a plea agreement withdrawn after it has been accepted to think long and hard before accepting an agreement.
Contact a Murfreesboro Criminal Lawyer
If you are currently facing criminal charges in the State of Tennessee and you have been offered a guilty plea agreement by the State, it is in your best interest to consult with an experienced Murfreesboro criminal lawyer at Bennett, Michael & Hornsby as soon as possible to ensure that your rights are protected. Contact the team today by calling 615-898-1560 to schedule your appointment.