The United States Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that between 90 and 95% of all criminal convictions result from guilty pleas rather than jury verdicts. The statistics are even higher for felony-level charges with studies indicating nearly 95% of state and 97% of federal felony convictions result from guilty pleas.
Criminal charges are not criminal convictions, and these statistics don’t consider cases where experienced criminal defense attorneys get criminal charges dropped before trial. Nonetheless, the vast majority of criminal defendants elect to take a “plea deal” with the government and waive their right to a trial by jury. Plea deals can benefit both parties; the government saves valuable time and resources by avoiding complex criminal trials, and defendants can often plea to lesser charges that substantially mitigate the potential consequences they face.
At Hogan Eickhoff, our experienced Wisconsin criminal defense attorneys understand how important the decisions to take a plea deal can be. Overwhelmed, confused, and frightened defendants may take the first plea deal offered without questioning the direct and indirect consequences of a criminal conviction. They may even plead guilty when they’re innocent or without a deal believing it’s implied: it’s not. A plea deal may be in a defendant’s best interest but not always. Don’t be blindsided by the unexpected collateral consequences of a plea deal. Discuss your criminal defense options and get the best deal possible by calling the top-rated Appleton criminal defense lawyers at Hogan Eickhoff today at (920) 450-9800 or contacting us online for your free, confidential criminal defense consultation.
What is a Plea Deal?
Sometimes referred to as a plea bargain or plea agreement, a plea deal is an agreement entered into between a criminal defendant and the prosecuting attorney whereby the defendant agrees to plead guilty to one or more of the charges against him/her in exchange for certain concessions from the prosecution. The most common concessions include:
- Dropping the most serious charge
- Dropping all but the most serious charge
- Allowing the defendant to plead to a lesser included offense, i.e., pleading to the lesser offense of “failure to obey a traffic control device” when you were ticketed for “speeding.”
- Not filing or arguing for sentencing enhancements, i.e., not submitting evidence of past criminal conduct that would otherwise increase an offender’s sentencing range
- Not arguing against or recommending a lesser sentence to the charges or alternative sentencing arrangements
- Dropping charges with mandatory minimum sentences
Plea deals are actually written agreements, and prosecutors are never required to offer a defendant a plea deal. There is no “right” to a plea bargain in the United States.
Don’t be fooled – pleading guilty to criminal charges is not a plea bargain. It’s simply the defendant’s obligation under a written plea agreement. A plea bargain must be offered, agreed to, signed, and in place before the defendant enters a guilty plea. A judge must also review the deal to ensure its legality, and he/she must actually accept the plea deal and guilty plea. If the judge does not accept the plea deal or plea, then its void, and the parties must enter into another agreement or proceed to trial/sentencing. There is little benefit to pleading guilty to serious criminal charges in Wisconsin if you haven’t made a deal with prosecutors.
Understanding What Plea Deals Can and Can’t Do During Sentencing
Judges, not prosecutors, are ultimately responsible for deciding a defendant’s sentence. Further, the state or federal prison authority, not the judge or prosecution, is ultimately responsible for determining the location and nature of the offender’s imprisonment. In all but limited circumstances, prosecutors can never guarantee a reduced sentence pursuant to a plea deal. The most they can do is drop certain charges, agree they won’t argue for more than a certain sentence, agree not to file paperwork establishing potential aggregating factors, and/or agree to “recommend” a certain lesser sentence to the judge.
Most Outagamie, Brown, and Calumet County defendants don’t realize that once they plead guilty to a qualifying offense, they may not withdraw the plea if the sentence is not as expected. Judges often agree with the sentencing range requested by prosecutors – but not always. Victim impact statements and aggravating factors may convince a judge to impose a harsher sentence than promised by the prosecutor. Judges also may only make “recommendations” to the state or federal prison authority regarding the nature of your confinement (maximum, minimum, or located close to family). Where and for how long a defendant will be incarcerated is not something that can be guaranteed by a Wisconsin plea deal.
The Pros and Cons of Accepting a Wisconsin Plea Bargain
The most beneficial plea deals typically:
- drop felony in favor of misdemeanor charges
- drop multiple charges in favor of a single offense
- drop charges with mandatory minimum sentences allowing judges discretion to impose a lesser sentence
- drop charges with serious collateral consequences, such as charges whereby the offender would be adjudicated a drug addict or sexual offender
These types of deals actually change the applicable sentencing range and/or offense designation to mitigate or remove certain consequences associated with a charged offense. The most effective plea bargains take away certain aspects of a judge’s sentencing discretion to limit a defendant’s potential maximum sentence.
Wisconsin plea deals are seldom beneficial in the following cases:
- There is only a single charge with no lesser included offense
- The charged offense has certain mandatory sentencing guidelines that don’t permit the judge to utilize much discretion
- A jury may find the defendant not guilty of the offenses charged
- The defendant has certain constitutional or procedural defenses to the charges that may result in the exclusion of key evidence or exoneration
- The deal offers only a minor benefit in exchange for waiving a defendant’s right to appeal and any constitutional defects in the charges or investigation
- It appears the prosecution cannot prove its burden at trial beyond a reasonable doubt due to a lack of key witnesses or evidence
Plea deals require defendants to waive most of their appeal rights and any applicable constitutional defenses because they’re admitting guilt. Once a defendant pleads guilty to the charges, he is left with less legal and procedural options on appeal.
Call Us Today to Schedule a Free Case Evaluation with an Appleton Criminal Defense Lawyer
Whether a defendant pleads guilty to the charges against him or is found guilty by a jury, taking a plea deal still results in a conviction. This means Green Bay criminal offenders, especially felony-level or sex offenders, will face the same collateral consequences of a Wisconsin felony/sexual offense conviction as those found guilty by a jury. These may include loss of firearms, voting rights, public benefits, child custody, professional licenses, freedom of travel, and sexual offender residency restrictions. Plea deals are often beneficial, but they shouldn’t be entered into without the help of Appleton’s top-rated criminal defense attorneys at Hogan Eickhoff. Schedule your free, confidential plea deal review and criminal defense consultation with us today by calling (920) 450-9800 or contacting us online.