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Guilty Pleas and Plea Bargaining

After the determination to press charges is made — and after a case survives pre-trial motions (if any) — the prosecuting attorney becomes committed to the idea that the defendant should be punished and convicted. The defendant invariably asks himself or herself two questions: (1) Will I be convicted? (2) If so, what is the penalty for the conviction?

Uncertainty regarding these two questions will usually result in the defendant responding favorable to “settlement” discussions or plea bargaining. In pleading guilty, the accused accepts punishment for some criminal activity. The prosecutor, in turn, permits the accused to avoid the uncertainty of a trial and will usually agree to a lesser sanction or penalty. Plea bargains vastly outnumber jury trials in criminal cases. This is due to a number of factors, not the least of which is that criminal trials are quite expensive and the prosecution only brings charges it feels adamant about and is confident that it can win.

In making the determination whether to submit a guilty plea, there needs to be a thorough understanding of the intricacies of the case pending against you. Competent counsel should be obtained before making this decision. Weighing the obvious risks of uncertainty of a trial versus a guilty plea is not an easy decision.

For a guilty plead to be effective, however, many requirements must be met. It must be a (1) voluntary plea. It cannot be the result of improper coercion by government officials. It must be a (2) knowing and intelligent plea. The individual pleading guilty must be (3) competent to do so. See U.S. v. Moran, 509 U.S. 389 (1993); Henderson v. Morgan, 426 U.S. 637 (1976).

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