Published on 2/28/2023, 4:34:00 PM
Navigating Plea Bargaining in Maryland Criminal Cases: A Comprehensive Guide
Plea bargaining is a common process in the criminal justice system, allowing defendants to negotiate a plea deal with the prosecution in exchange for a reduced sentence or charge. In Maryland, navigating plea bargaining can be a complex and overwhelming task, requiring the expertise of a skilled criminal defense lawyer. In this comprehensive guide, we will discuss the ins and outs of plea bargaining in Maryland criminal cases, including the different types of plea agreements, the role of the judge and jury, and when to prepare for trial.
What is a Plea Bargain?
A plea bargain is an agreement between a defendant and the prosecution in which the defendant agrees to plead guilty or no contest in exchange for a reduced sentence or charge. This negotiation typically occurs before trial, allowing both parties to avoid the risks and costs associated with a trial. Plea bargains generally involve negotiations of two major components, charges and sentence bargaining. Bargaining about a charge involves reducing the severity of the charges against the defendant. Bargaining on a sentence involves reducing the length of the sentence for the charges the defendant is facing, whether that's the State's recommendation or a request by both parties that a judge enforce a particular sentence or cap themselves at a certain length of sentence.
Who Makes a Plea Offer?
Plea offers are typically made by the prosecution, with the final approval of the presiding judge. The prosecutor has the authority to offer a plea deal to the defendant, but the judge may need to approve the plea agreement before it can be accepted by the defendant if it limits the Judge's ability to enforce certain conditions. It is important to note that a plea offer is not a guarantee and can be withdrawn by the prosecution at any time until it is accepted.
Reasons to Consider a Plea Bargain
There are several reasons why a defendant may consider a plea bargain, including:
A plea bargain can result in the defendant facing lesser charges than they would in a trial.
A plea bargain can result in the defendant receiving a reduced sentence, such as probation instead of jail time.
Avoiding a Trial:
A plea bargain can allow the defendant to avoid the risks and costs associated with a trial, such as the possibility of a harsher sentence if convicted on the most severe charges brought, or the filing of subsequent offender notices at the time of sentencing.
Is the Plea Offer Good in My Case?
Whether or not a plea offer is good for a defendant depends on the individual circumstances of the case. It is important to carefully consider the offer and consult with a skilled criminal defense lawyer before accepting or rejecting a plea deal. Factors to consider when evaluating a plea offer include the strength of the prosecution's case, the severity of the charges, and the potential penalties associated with a conviction. While a suspended sentence might be a great offer for a person who has no collateral consequences to a plea, it could also be a bad offer if a conviction would involve a disqualification of firearms ownership.
This is where the benefits of a criminal lawyer are most apparent.
Binding vs Open Plea Agreements
There are two types of plea agreements in Maryland: binding and open.
Binding plea agreement
A binding plea agreement means that the defendant agrees to plead guilty to a specific charge in exchange for a specific sentence or range of sentences. These sentences are also referred to as ABA pleas. Typically this plea must be agreed upon by the Judge in open Court, and often beforehand in chambers or at the bench.
Open Plea Agreement
An open plea agreement means that the defendant agrees to plead guilty to one or more charges, but the judge has the discretion to determine the sentence. A defense attorney will argue for a lesser sentence, and the State may argue for up to the statutory maximum.
Can a Judge Change the Plea?
In Maryland, a prosecutor cannot withdraw a plea agreement that was accepted during the plea agreement process. In the landmark case of Santabello vs New York, the United States Supreme Court held that a prosecutor has a duty to uphold an agreement between a Defendant and the State, even if a new prosecutor enters the case.
If a judge decides to change their agreement to a plea, the defendant will have the opportunity to withdraw the plea agreement and proceed to trial.
Maryland Sentencing Guidelines
Maryland follows sentencing guidelines that judges use to determine the appropriate sentence for a given crime. These guidelines are not mandatory, but judges usually use them as a starting point. Often experienced criminal defense attorneys uses these sentencing guidelines to answer the question of "Is my plea offer good?"
The guidelines consider a range of factors such as the severity of the offense, any previous convictions, the defendant's criminal history, and the circumstances surrounding the crime. The guidelines also consider whether the crime is violent or non-violent, whether the defendant is a first-time offender or has a criminal history, and whether there were any aggravating or mitigating circumstances involved in the crime.
Based on these factors, the guidelines provide a range of potential sentences that judges can consider. However, judges also have the discretion to deviate from the guidelines and impose a sentence that they believe is appropriate for the specific case.
If all else fails... prepare for Trial
While a plea bargain may be a good option for many defendants, it is not always the best course of action. In some cases, a trial may be the only way to achieve a favorable outcome. Preparing for trial is a complex process that requires a thorough understanding of criminal law and the legal system. It involves gathering evidence, conducting research, and building a strong defense strategy.
Defendants who are preparing for trial should work closely with their criminal defense attorney to ensure that they are adequately prepared. This includes understanding the charges they face, the potential penalties, and the strengths and weaknesses of their case.
Preparing for trial can be a stressful and time-consuming process, but it is essential for anyone who wants to ensure that their rights are protected and that they receive a fair trial.
Hire FrizWoods today
Navigating the criminal justice system can be a daunting task, but with the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney, you can protect your rights and achieve the best possible outcome for your case.
At FrizWoods, we have years of experience representing clients in criminal cases throughout Maryland. We understand the nuances of Maryland criminal law and know how to navigate the legal system to achieve favorable outcomes for our clients.
If you are facing criminal charges in Maryland, don't hesitate to contact us today. Our team of skilled attorneys is ready to fight for you and protect your rights every step of the way.