Plea Bargaining In Michigan Criminal Cases
Of course, anyone charged with a crime has an absolute right to a trial before a jury pursuant to the 6th Amendment to the US Constitution. However, the vast majority of criminal cases never go to trial and are resolved by plea bargaining. Statistics show that approximately 90% of all criminal cases are resolved by way of a plea bargain. The goal, as simple as it may seem, is to get the best plea bargain possible.
Plea bargaining is the process by which an attorney for a person charged with a crime and the prosecuting attorney arrive at an agreement for the charged party to resolve his case (by way of a plea bargain) without going to trial. Plea bargain is often criticized and criminal defendants claim that they are being sold out or railroaded when they cop a plea. First of all, nobody should plea guilty if he or she is innocent. To do so would be a miscarriage of justice and a flaw in the system. However, I do not doubt that innocent defendants may take a plea to a lesser charge when they can avoid a long term in prison upon conviction of the charged offense. This is not comforting or appropriate. However, it is the defendant's ultimate decision whether or not he or she should take the plea bargain or take the case to trial. The attorney should never allow a client to plead guilty to an offense where innocence is claimed or a trial by jury is requested. Plea bargaining is ugly and wrong when a person is innocent and is faced with the precarious decision to have a trial and face potential conviction and prison or plead guilty to something that he or she did not do. The purpose of this legal guide is not about those cases. An attorney will guide his or her client through the pretrial and plea bargaining process by making recommendations, stating all other available options, risks and potential sentences. It is the duty of an attorney to present his or her client with all offers or plea agreements. A person who has committed a crime may have a shot at a not-guilty verdict at trial with some reasonable defense or legal issue. However, the plea bargain may be to good to resist. Often, a plea bargain may be to reduce the charge and contain an element regarding the possible sentence. For example, lets say someone commits breaking and entering of a home at night. A witness can identify the person but the identification has some weakness or inconsistencies which the defense attorney can attack at trial. The prosecutor may offer a plea bargain to a lesser offense to avoid a verdict of not-guilty verdict. The defendant may want to take the plea rather than run the risk of conviction for a more serious crime. Plea bargains are also utilized in many cases involving first offenders where there are special provisions of law to have the case "plead out" and dismissed after a period of probation. Again, no innocent person should plead guilty to anything. For example, a person charged with possession of marijuana who has no prior drug crime may be eligible for a dismissal upon plea of guilty and upon compliance with probation terms. In addition, certain youthful offenders in Michigan, ages 17 - 21, may be eligible for a plea bargain pursuant to the Youthful Trainee Act to plead guilty and have the charge(s) dismissed after a period of probation and compliance to be determined by the court. There are similar provisions of law for favorable plea bargains for first time domestic violence offenders. Habitual felony offenders may also be better off with a plea bargain. In this regard, a person charged as a habitual felony offender can face longer incarceration because criminal history is considered as an element in the Michigan Sentence Guidelines. Habitual offender status may range from habitual offender 2nd degree to habitual offender 4th degree. An attorney may negotiate for a plea bargain from 4th degree to 2nd degree which can shave several years off the sentence. In conclusion, plea bargaining should not be considered by a person who wants a trial or is innocent. Nor should anyone ever be subjected to coercion or threats to plead guilty. A plea bargain may be considered by defendants to avoid the risk of conviction at trial on the original more serious charge or for purpose of sentence reduction.