RIGHT TO JURY TRIAL
Whether state or federal charges, a client has a constitutional right to plead “not guilty” and demand a jury trial for any criminal action that could result in a jail sentence. See the “YOUR RIGHTS” section of this web site. It is absolutely the client’s choice whether to plead innocent and demand a trial, or to plead guilty or nolo contendere (“no contest”) or enter an Alford plea. At trial, all of the jurors must be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt in order to find the client guilty. If even one juror holds out for “not guilty,” then the client cannot be convicted.
NO RIGHT TO PLEA BARGAIN OR PLEA AGREEMENT
It is always in the client’s best interests for the attorney to explore the possibility of a plea agreement or “plea bargain” as it is sometimes called. While there is no constitutional “right” or even statutory requirement for a plea agreement, most cases in the United States are settled by agreement or result in a “blind plea” to the judge (meaning without an agreement, the client relies on the “mercy” of the court).
A good criminal lawyer will not counsel a client to take a deal if the client is innocent; however, there are times when a client might want to plea bargain, whether they are innocent or guilty. Whether a client wants a jury trial, a trial to the judge or wants to accept responsibility and plead guilty, we will represent your interests.
Circumstances where a person might agree to plead to a crime include:
- When the client is actually guilty of the crime charged
- When the client is guilty of another crime but not the one charged
- Whether an “Alford” plea can be negotiated. In this type of plea, the client denies having committed the offense, but the client agrees that if the prosecutor presented its evidence, there is a likelihood that a conviction could occur
- If a felony charge is reduced to a misdemeanor or a “lesser” felony charge in order to obtain a lesser sentencing range
- If a lesser sentence can be negotiated on the charged offense by entering a plea rather than going to trial
- When the risk of conviction is extremely high based on the evidence and the innocent client is concerned with the range of punishment that a jury could recommend if found guilty
- If the judge and prosecutor will accept a “no contest” plea, meaning that the client does not agree he is guilty but agrees that for whatever reason (factual, financial or other) he will not challenge the charges
- Whether a “deferred” sentence can be negotiated, meaning that after a period of probation, the “guilty plea” will be expunged (or cleared) from the client’s record. This type of plea does not result in a permanent “conviction,” assuming the client successfully completes the terms and conditions of probation. However, it usually results in having a permanent arrest record.
- Whether a “suspended” sentence (probation) can be negotiated, meaning that a term of incarceration is ordered, but it is suspended by the court. This type of plea results in a permanent felony conviction, but usually no jail time.
- Whether a “split sentence” can be negotiated, meaning that part of the sentence involves jail or prison, but the balance is “suspended” or served on probation. This also results in a permanent conviction.
- Whether the client can negotiate the time when he or she enters prison or can negotiate the designated prison or jail where the sentence will be served
- In federal court only, whether a client can negotiate a “conditional plea” that allows the client to accept responsibility for the commission of the crime but still appeal a technical issue that might impact the status of the conviction itself or might result in a lesser sentence after the appeal
There are obviously many other considerations. These are just some of the factors to consider in determining whether it is in the client’s best interests to plead or go to trial.
RIGHTS WAIVED IF YOU PLEAD GUILTY
If you plead guilty or no contest, you will give up the following constitutional or statutory rights:
- You have the right to plead “not guilty” and let a judge or jury determine your innocence or guilt.
- You have a right to a trial by jury, but may waive that right and let the judge hear the facts in a bench trial, if both you and the State agree to waive a jury.
- You have the right to a speedy and public trial.
- You have the right to counsel at all stages of the proceedings, and if you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to represent you.
- You have the right to see and hear all witnesses called to testify against you and the right to cross-examine those witnesses.
- You have subpoena power which gives you the right to compel witnesses come to court to give testimony or produce documents.
- You have the right not to incriminate yourself. In other words, the State cannot force you to take the witness stand, and the jury will be instructed that it cannot infer guilt from your decision not to testify.
- You have the right to testify in your own behalf, if you so choose.
- You are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This requires the unanimous agreement of all 12 jury members if you elect a jury trial.
OTHER PLEA CONSIDERATIONS & FAQs
- Whether any “sentencing” guidelines apply or whether there are mandatory minimum sentences. This is particularly relevant in federal cases where the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines control the probable sentence.
- Whether the crime has been designated as an 85% crime, meaning that if the client is convicted, he must serve 85% of the sentence before being eligible for parole.
- Whether the pleading client will be required to “work” for the state or the feds. For example, will the client have to work as an “agent” or a “snitch”?
- Will the plea agreement require waiving or giving up certain rights, such as a right to appeal or a right to certain sentencing issues under Blakely v. Washington (a Supreme Court decision affecting sentencing)?
- Will the plea agreement require that the client disclose all prior criminal activity — even when not charged with that other activity?
- Will a plea to this offense enhance punishment in a future criminal action if the client is ever charged again? A felony conviction may mean that if you are ever charged with a crime again in the future, it will be “after former conviction of a felony” (AFCF). This means that the punishment for any future crime can be enhanced because of the former conviction. In Oklahoma, the enhancement after one prior conviction is punishment not less than 10 years (in other words, 10 years to life in prison). After two convictions, it increases to not less than 20 years. In other states (like California), they have the “three strikes and you’re out rule,” meaning that a third felony conviction is an automatic life sentence.
- Will the client have to register as a felon or register as a Sex Offender or Meth Offender or Domestic Abuser?
- Will the client have to take drug tests?
- Will the client be on supervised or unsupervised probation?
- What happens if the client violates the terms of probation?
- Will your civil rights change? Your civil rights might include voting, running for an elected position, owning a gun or ammunition, and other rights may be terminated if you are convicted of a felony. For example, a felon can NEVER own a firearm of any kind (pistol, rifle, shotgun) for any reason. If you are a hunter or sportsman or if you feel a gun is a necessity for protecting yourself, your family or your home, you cannot accept a felony conviction.
- Travel restrictions may apply while on probation (particularly for sex crimes). You may forever be precluded from certain foreign travel if convicted of a specified crime determined by that foreign country (such as drug, immigration or sex offenses).
- Will the plea prevent you from working in a particular profession? A felony conviction may restrict your employment options. For example in Oklahoma, a felony conviction precludes you from serving as a corporate director, bank officer, liquor dealer, funeral director, surveyor, physical therapist, social worker, chiropractor, electrologist, official shorthand reporter (court reporter), realtor, or bail bondsman. A “felony” is considered a crime of moral turpitude (inherently evil or wrong). This means you probably cannot ever work in any regulated industry or profession. Most likely, a felon will not be able to practice law, architecture, medicine, dentistry, engineering, accounting, veterinary science, real estate appraisal, occupational therapy, marriage or domestic counseling, nursing or cosmetology. It may even preclude you from working in a school and will preclude employment with the State of Oklahoma. A felony can also restrict employment as a pawn broker. You likely will not be bondable if a convicted felon–meaning you cannot handle money in the jobs for which you are eligible. You probably cannot work in any industry where “security” concerns may be a factor (such as working for a government agency or for any airline industry or in any company that provides defense or government contracts, such as General Dynamics). Other examples of restricted employment include polygraph examiner, security guard or private investigator, and working with security alarms or security systems. You also cannot work in any gaming or gambling establishment.
Call the Wyatt Law Office at 405.234.5500 for your Oklahoma Plea Bargain Defense Lawyers and Attorneys. Your future is our business.