What are plea bargains, and what can they do?
Plea agreements also referred to as plea bargains or plea deals, are contracts entered into between criminal defendants and local prosecutors. In exchange for pleading guilty to one or more criminal charges, prosecutors may agree to do the following:
- Recommend a more lenient sentence or alternative arraignment to the court
- Drop certain charges
- Not bring additional charges based on newly discovered evidence
- Not file certain documents that would result in sentencing enhancements
- Speak to the court about your cooperation and character throughout the criminal process
The vast majority of criminal defendants charged with a Wisconsin felony accept a plea deal. However, agreements exist only between the defendant and local prosecutors. They do not bind the judge or the courts. Appleton judges may accept a guilty plea but refuse to impose the recommended sentence, and this will not generally nullify a plea agreement.
Am I legally entitled to a plea deal?
No. You do not have a legal right to be offered a plea in Wisconsin or to have a rejected deal revived. However, an experienced Green Bay felony defense lawyer at Hogan Eickhoff might draft a beneficial agreement and negotiate a plea deal with prosecutors on your behalf.
Are plea deals always beneficial in Wisconsin?
The government counts on guilty pleas to reduce their caseloads and operating expenses. As such, both the state and defendants often benefit from the plea bargaining process, but it is essential to be aware of the fact that sometimes it’s better to fight the charges against you. The government frequently attempts to pressure defendants into pleading guilty even when they have a strong defense to an element of the charged offense. Defendants with a more substantial chance of acquittal might hat actually find themselves under additional pressure to plead guilty and waive their essential trial and evidentiary rights.
In some cases, mandatory minimum penalties attach to certain crimes. Neither plea bargains nor judges can alter statutory minimums, which frequently apply to federal drug trafficking offenses. An experienced Winnebago County criminal defense lawyer at Hogan Eickhoff should review the terms and potential penalties applicable to each charge before recommending you accept or reject a plea deal.
Does entering a plea deal guarantee the recommended sentence?
No. Judges, not prosecutors, ultimately determine a defendant’s sentence in Wisconsin. Prosecutors may only promise to recommend an appropriate sentence based on the charges. The government could, however, agree to drop or not bring additional charges against the defendant. Sometimes the most beneficial plea deals involve agreements to plea to a lesser-included offense, such as a misdemeanor, because this limits the charges presented to the court for sentencing. While Outagamie County judges often accept prosecutors’ recommendations, they must utilize certain statutory factors and guidelines to avoid sentencing disparities between similarly situated offenders.
Do judges have to review and accept plea deals in Wisconsin?
Criminal court judges must accept your guilty plea before a plea deal goes into effect. Wisconsin Stat. § 971.08 states that before a judge may do so, she must speak with the defendant personally to ensure he understands the nature of the charges, the potential penalties associated with those charges (including deportation), and voluntarily agrees to plead guilty. Judges must also ensure that defendants actually committed the crimes charged and that prosecutors discussed the possibility of any victims. Judges may, and often must, reject guilty pleas if it appears the defendant might not have committed the crime or prosecutors violated his constitutional rights.
Defendants may discuss the implications of a “no contest” plea with their Wisconsin criminal defense lawyers at Hogan Eickhoff if the court rejects or otherwise could not accept a guilty plea.
Can I withdraw a guilty plea or plea agreement after it’s accepted?
Defendants may only withdraw a duly accepted guilty plea in the limited circumstances outlined by the Supreme Court of Wisconsin in Birts v. State, 228 N.W.2d 351 (1975). Permissible grounds for withdrawing a guilty plea entered under a plea bargain include:
- Denial of effective assistance of counsel (this argument often is raised when the court failed to appoint a public defender or defense counsel substantially failed in his duties to the defendant)
- Mistake of face
- Prosecutors breached the plea deal by failing to request and/or move for the agreed concessions
You may not withdraw a guilty plea or agreement simply because your sentence was more significant than anticipated. Judges, not prosecutors, ultimately determine a defendant’s punishment as plea agreements do not bind the court. Defendants might move to vacate an Appleton guilty plea with the help of Hogan Eickhoff if prosecutors did not fulfill their obligations to recommend or fight for a reduced sentence.
Can the government use a plea bargain or negotiations to prove my guilt if I change my mind?
Under Wisc. Stat. § 971.08(3), the state may not use guilty pleas rejected by the court or otherwise permissibly withdrawn used against the defendant. The case proceeds as if the defendant entered an initial plea of not guilty. Further, prosecutors may not use any admissions of guilty made or implied during plea negotiation against a defendant in a subsequent trial or action. These protections permit defendants and their defense attorneys to discuss plea deals with prosecutors while retaining the right against self-incrimination.
Why should I retain private defense counsel to help negotiate a Wisconsin plea deal?
In exchange for leniency, plea deals often require defendants to waive certain essential rights. Accepting a plea bargain may affect your ability to have illegal police conduct reviewed or petition for certain relief while in prison. The respected and experienced Wisconsin criminal defense lawyers at Hogan Eickhoff may review any proposed plea agreements and fight for the best deal. Speak with our Winnebago, Calumet, and Waupaca County plea deal attorneys before it is too late by calling (920) 450-9800 or contacting us online to learn more.