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Colorado Plea Bargains – How And Why They Work

Colorado Plea Bargains - How And Why They WorkThe Colorado Plea Bargain: When are plea deals offered? What happens after a plea bargain? What are the benefits of making a plea deal?

Plea Bargains in Colorado Criminal Cases

In many criminal cases, a Defendant, criminal defense lawyer and prosecutor may decide that a plea bargain is the best way to resolve the case. A plea bargain means that the prosecution and defense lawyer work out a deal where the Defendant agrees to plead guilty, often to a lesser charge. In exchange for the guilty plea, the Defendant is given a less harsh sentence and most often other related charges are dismissed.

When are Plea Deals Offered?

Plea bargains are not offered in all criminal cases.

A prosecutor may consider many factors before making the decision to negotiate a plea deal including:

The seriousness of the alleged crime

The weight of the evidence against the defendant

The probability of jury finding the defendant guilty at trial

The criminal justice system encourages plea bargains because plea bargains help to alleviate the burden on the court system. If you have been arrested and are offered a plea bargain, consider having a criminal defense attorney review the deal before you accept.

The Benefits of Accepting a Plea Bargain

Although accepting a plea bargain means that you will have to plead guilty to a criminal offense, the benefits of reduced penalties may outweigh the negatives.

By entering into a plea deal you may:

Have reduced fines

Have reduced or NO jail time

Accept a lesser charge and not have a more serious crime on your criminal record

After a Plea Deal is Reached

If a plea bargain is accepted, there is no need for a trial. After a plea deal is worked out between the prosecutor and criminal defense lawyer, the prosecutor will present the agreement  to the judge and recommend that the court accept the agreement. It is ultimately up to the judge whether to agree that the agreement is fair.

If the plea bargain is accepted, the plea agreement is entered into the record in open court with the Defendant present. A “providency hearing” is the process that that Colorado Judge uses to make certain – using a question and answer format – that the Defendant understands the rights he is waiving and that the plea is voluntary and is entered knowingly and intelligently.

Negotiating a plea bargain requires a thorough understanding of criminal law.

Can A Plea Bargain Be Rejected By A Judge?

When a Defendant enters a plea that results in a finding of guilt, the Court is under no obligation to accept the plea. A Court, after consideration and exercise of sound judicial judgment, may notify the parties that the Court is rejecting the agreement.

The Court is given wide latitude to accept or reject a plea agreement presented by the parties.

There are many factors that the Court can consider in determining whether to accept, or reject, a plea – these include, but are not limited to:

The offender’s prior criminal history;

Recommendations in the pre-sentence investigation report;

Recommendations made by treatment providers;

Statements made by family members and victims; and

The nature of the crime that was committed.

When faced with criminal charges, Defendant often has one simple goal and that is to minimize the potential penalty.  Of course, being found innocent at trial, and being acquitted, is the best way to avoid jail time and other penalties.  However, going to trial can be risky because it may be difficult to predict what a jury will decide.  Therefore, many Defendants choose to enter a plea bargain agreement with the prosecution.

What Happens When An Agreement Is Reached?

If both sides agree on a plea bargain then the plea bargain agreement will be clearly stated on the court record before a judge who will issue the agreed upon sentence.  Both sides are legally required to follow the terms of the plea bargain and the agreed upon disposition of the case.

Plea bargaining can have benefits for the individual Defendant and for society. It is important that both the Defendant and the prosecutor carefully weigh their options before reaching a plea bargain agreement.

In the United States, many believe that plea bargaining undermines the intent of the criminal justice system.

Plea Bargain as defined by Black’s Law ( a well known treatise used by lawyers) as the process whereby the ACCUSED and the PROSECUTOR in a criminal case work out a mutually satisfactory DISPOSITION of the case subject to court approval.

The Reasoning Behind The Need For Plea Bargains – Survival Of The Criminal Justice System

Plea bargaining provides prosecutors and defense attorneys with the flexibility resolve some cases while allocating scarce resources to other, perhaps more serious cases where the parties cannot agree to resolve the case amicably and the case must go to trial.

Plea bargains have surged because there are more crimes and there are more petty offenses which now are criminalized (offenses such as failing to pay a bus fare, being an unlicensed vendor, petty burglary, shoplifting, etc.).

In the United States our judicial systems are allotted a limited amount of resources and thus should be spent efficiently and effectively through the prosecution of capital offenses.

Of course, prosecutors are also concerned about their own calendars. Crowded calendars mean that the prosecutor’s staff is overworked. Plea bargains tend to lighten everyone’s caseload. With today’s cutbacks and already slim resources, prosecutors feel they will have additional time and resources for more important cases if they conclude a large number of less serious cases with reasonable plea bargains.

Again – What is Plea Bargaining?

A plea bargain is an agreement between the prosecutor and the defendant in a criminal case.  The prosecutor gives the defendant the opportunity to plead guilty to a lesser charge or to the original charge with less than the maximum sentence.  For example, the prosecution and the defense may agree to a misdemeanor charge instead of a felony charge or the parties may agree to a sentence of 12 years instead of 20 years if the recommended sentence for the originally charged  crime is a sentence in excess of 20 plus years imprisonment.

There are many factors that determine whether a plea bargain will be reached in an individual case and whether a plea bargain is a desirable outcome.  Both sides carefully weigh the strength of their case and decide whether it is prudent to go to trial.  The prosecution may also consider the publicity surrounding the case and whether there is public pressure to prosecute that particular defendant to the full extent of the law.  The defense will consider the individual defendant’s desire to go to trial and the seriousness of the potential sentence.

Summary – The PROS of Plea Bargaining

  • For the Defendant, the most significant benefit to plea bargaining is to take away the uncertainty of a criminal trial and to avoid the maximum sentence.
  • Society also benefits from plea bargaining since the agreements lessen court congestion and free up prosecutors to handle more cases.
  • Plea bargaining takes away the uncertainty of a criminal trial
  • Most people are guilty of what they’re charged with; however going to trial is a “winner takes all” bet and plea bargaining thus insures that conviction given scanty evidence.
  • Plea bargains offer the defendant a freedom of choice.
  • The Defendant can choose to give up his or her 6th amendment Constitutional right to a lawyer and a trial in order to gain the benefit of a known result.
  • Plea bargains reduce the strain on an already overburdened prison systems

For a judge, the primary incentive for accepting a plea bargain is to move along a crowded calendar. Most judges simply do not have time to try every case that comes through the door. Additionally, because jails are overcrowded, judges may face the prospect of having to release convicted people before they complete their sentences.

A CNN article in 2009 reports:

Federal judges tentatively ruled that California must reduce the number of inmates in its overcrowded prison system by up to 40 percent to stop a constitutional violation of prisoners’ rights. Implementing the court’s ruling would result in up to 58,000 prisoners being released despite their sentence, by allowing convicts that have not served their full sentence to reintegrate into society threat to public safety. Judges often reason that using plea bargains to “process out” offenders who are not likely to do much jail time leads to fewer problems with overcrowding

Plea bargains allow the prosecution to obtain otherwise unavailable witness testimony for other cases

Plea bargaining eliminates the threat of major criminals. When plea bargaining occurs in exchange for testimony, it is in order to convict another of a more significant offense. The sentence of a minor criminal is lessened, so that one at a higher level may be convicted. It is obvious that higher level criminals are of greater detriment to society than their lesser counterparts. They cause a greater amount of crime to be perpetrated within a society. Therefore, their conviction is of greater benefit. Because plea bargaining lessens the danger to society, justice is achieved for each individual within that society. 

Summary – The CONS of Plea Bargaining

The biggest drawback to plea bargaining is for an innocent Defendant who makes the decision to plead guilty to a lesser charge in order to avoid the risk that he or she will be found guilty at trial.

Additionally, some attorneys and judges argue that plea bargaining has led to poor police investigations and attorneys who do not take the time to properly prepare their cases.  They believe that instead of pursuing justice, the parties rely on making a deal and that the details of what happened and the legal consequences for those actions are less important.

Some attorneys and judges also argue that plea bargaining may be unconstitutional because it takes away a Defendant’s constitutional right to a trial by jury.  If the Defendant is coerced or pressured into a plea bargain agreement then this argument may have weight.  However, if the Defendant, at all times in the criminal case, retains the right to a trial by jury without pressure to make an agreement, then the courts have found that plea bargaining remains constitutional.

Other CONS Of Plea Bargaining

  • Trials enhance justice
  • Trials are a necessary condition for justice
  • Guilt or innocence is an empirical matter. The goal of trials is to investigate this truth. Two or more lawyers, skilled in law and reasoning, argue before an impartial judge or jury of the accused’s peers. They present evidence to build their cases until a verdict is reached. There are many things that can go wrong during trials, but the point is that their purpose is to investigate the guilt of the accused.
  • Punishment must be decided in court
  • If guilt becomes established, the court will then decide upon a sentence or penalty. The court may not always choose correctly, but again, it is a necessary (but insufficient condition) for justice.
  • Plea Bargaining is unjust and inherently coercive.

Colorado Plea Bargains – How And Why They Work

If you found any of the information I have provided on this web page article helpful please click my Plus+1 or the Share buttons for Twitter and Facebook below so that others may also find it.

The contents of this article are based upon my research, my personal experience and my personal analysis and opinions developed from my thirty six years (as of 2018) of criminal trial experience from both sides of the courtroom – as a former career prosecutor for Arapahoe and Douglas Counties (13 years) and as the owner of my own Criminal Defense Law Firm since 1999 (19 years).

The reader is also admonished that Colorado criminal law, like criminal law in every state and at the Federal level, changes constantly. The article appearing above was accurate at the time it was drafted but it cannot account for changes occurring after it was uploaded.

If, after reading this article, you have questions about your case and would like to consider retaining our law firm, we invite you to contact us at the Steinberg Colorado Criminal Defense Law Firm – 303-627-7777.

Never stop fighting – never stop believing in yourself and your right to due process of law. You will not be alone in court, H. Michael will be at your side every step of the way – advocating for justice and the best possible result in your case. H. Michael Steinberg is passionate about criminal defense. His extensive knowledge and experience of Colorado Criminal Law gives him the edge you need to properly handle your case

H. Michael Steinberg Best Colorado Criminal Defense LawyerABOUT THE AUTHOR: H. Michael Steinberg – Email The Author at:

hmsteinberg@hotmail.com

A Denver Colorado Criminal Defense Lawyer – or call his office at 303-627-7777 during business hours – or call his cell if you cannot wait and need his immediate assistance – please call 720-220-2277.

“A good criminal defense lawyer is someone who devotes themselves to their client’s case from beginning to end, always realizing that this case is the most important thing in that client’s life.”

You should be careful to make a responsible choice in selecting a Colorado Criminal Defense Lawyer. We encourage you to “vet” our firm. Over the last 36 plus years – by focusing ONLY on Colorado criminal law – H. Michael has had the necessary time to commit to the task of constantly updating himself on nearly every area of criminal law, to include Colorado criminal law and procedure and trial and courtroom practice.

Putting more than 36 years of Colorado criminal defense experience to work for you.

H. Michael works hard to get his clients the best possible results in and out of the courtroom. He has written, and continues to write, extensively on Colorado criminal law and he hopes this article helps you in some small way – Colorado Plea Bargains – How And Why They Work.

 

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Colorado Plea Bargains - How And Why They Work
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Colorado Plea Bargains - How And Why They Work
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The Colorado Plea Bargain: When are plea deals offered? What happens after a plea bargain? What are the benefits of making a plea deal? Plea Bargains in Colorado Criminal Cases
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H. Michael Steinberg Esq.
Attorney and Counselor at Law
The Colorado Criminal Defense Law Firm of H. Michael Steinberg
A Denver, Colorado Lawyer Focused Exclusively On
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