Accepting a Plea Bargain in Federal Court

man's hand holding a pen writing his signature - plea bargain in federal court concept

A plea bargain is an agreement between the prosecution and the defendant where the defendant agrees to plead guilty or no contest to criminal charges, often in exchange for a less severe charge or a more lenient penalty than the judge might otherwise impose for the charged offense. Accepting a federal plea bargain can allow a defendant to avoid some of the most severe punishments for a federal criminal charge. But not every plea bargain is a good one. Before you accept a federal plea bargain, you should carefully analyze the circumstances of your case and discuss it with your criminal defense lawyer to determine whether you are better off accepting the plea deal, pleading “open” without an agreement, or taking your case to trial.

Are Plea Bargains Common in Federal Court?

The vast majority of federal criminal cases never make it to trial. More than 90% of federal criminal cases are resolved through a plea agreement. Prosecutors offer plea agreements for a variety of reasons, and there are various reasons why it might be in the best interests of a criminal defendant to accept one. However, it is important to understand whether you are benefitting from a proposed plea agreement because in accepting a plea agreement you will be required to waive virtually all rights to appeal and collateral attack the conviction and sentence.

There are two different types of plea agreements. One is a cooperation agreement and one is an agreement without cooperation. While there are significant benefits to a cooperation plea agreement, there can be substantial risks. One benefit is that if the cooperation is successful and the government files a Section 5K1.1 Motion on a defendant’s behalf, the amount of time that he/she is facing will be substantially reduced. That benefit must be weighed against the danger that cooperation may pose. However, it is not necessary to cooperate with the government and provide information and/or testimony against others, in order to enter into a plea agreement. A defendant can enter into a plea agreement without cooperation and still get 2-3 points off of the sentencing guidelines for acceptance of responsibility, so long as he/she complies with the terms of pretrial release.

If you cannot reach an agreement with the government, it is still possible to plead “open” to the Indictment. While this, too, carries risks, in some cases it can limit the amount of time and monetary penalties that a defendant is facing.

Why Do Federal Prosecutors Offer Plea Bargains?

In most federal criminal cases, the government has invested months or even years investigating the crime. The federal government generally does not file a criminal case unless they believe that they have overwhelming evidence that will prove their case. Of course, prosecutors prefer a plea agreement because it obtains a criminal conviction while avoiding the time, expense, and uncertainty of taking a case to trial.

In some federal criminal cases, the prosecutor is trying to convince the defendant to cooperate with them and provide information about other people who may be involved. A federal plea bargain is a way to convince a defendant to cooperate and provide evidence against other defendants, in return for leniency. A federal prosecutor may enter into a plea bargain because they do not want to expose their informants. An informant may be required to testify at trial, which could result in the informant’s identity being revealed or the criminal defense lawyer impeaching the informant's testimony with evidence of prior bad acts or criminal convictions.

How Is a Plea Bargain Reached?

A plea bargain in federal court requires that the prosecutor and defense lawyer work together to reach a compromise that is fair to both parties. The prosecutor and defense lawyer can negotiate the terms of a plea bargain, and the defendant can accept or reject it.

If a defendant accepts a plea bargain, the judge must still approve it. A judge is not required to accept a federal plea bargain, and they can reject it if it is too lenient. However, most judges will accept a plea bargain because it helps move the judicial process along and eliminates the court’s backlog.

A federal criminal trial is expensive and time-consuming, and a plea bargain in federal court can save money and resources. A plea bargain helps judges and prosecutors manage their caseloads by reducing the number of cases that require a full trial and helps resolve a case quickly without a trial that could take days or weeks to complete.

Why Accept a Plea Bargain in Federal Court?

No one knows exactly what will happen at trial, and a defendant could receive a result that is worse than what the prosecutor is offering. During the negotiation process, an experienced federal attorney can present forensic evidence proving an amount of loss that is less than the government has charged. As a result, if a lower amount of loss is agreed to by the government, the amount of time that a defendant is facing will be reduced.

A plea bargain can be an efficient way to resolve a criminal charge. In some situations, a plea bargain will result in no jail time or a sentence of time served. A plea bargain may involve reducing a felony charge to a misdemeanor, which can allow a defendant to preserve their civil rights, retain a professional license, and protect their future job prospects.

Whatever the reason, someone facing criminal charges should carefully weigh the advantages and disadvantages of a federal plea bargain.

Hope Lefeber Can Help You Negotiate and Evaluate a Federal Plea Bargain

Deciding to accept a plea bargain in federal court is an important decision. Before accepting a federal plea bargain, you should consult with an experienced federal criminal defense attorney who will evaluate your situation and help you consider all of the relevant factors. Every case is different, and you will need to consider:

  • The strength of the prosecutor’s case
  • The likelihood of a conviction at trial
  • The severity of the penalties you could face if convicted
  • The time and expense of going to trial
  • The potential benefits of a federal plea bargain

Hope Lefeber has represented criminal defendants in federal court for over 30 years. She can help you evaluate your case and determine whether accepting a plea bargain in federal court is in your best interests.

To learn more, contact the Law Offices of Hope Lefeber to schedule a confidential consultation to discuss your case and how she can help. Call Hope Lefeber today at (610) 668-7927.