Plea Agreements occur in 97% of federal criminal cases. Under the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, specifically Rule 11 (c) (1), there are 3 types of Plea Agreements, wherein the defendant agrees to plead guilty to the charged offense or a lesser offense in exchange for: (A). The federal prosecutor not bringing or moving to dismiss other charges; (B). The federal prosecutor recommending or agreeing not to oppose a particular sentence requested by the defendant (Such a recommendation or request is not binding on the court); or (C). The prosecutor and the defendant agreeing to a specific sentence or sentencing range (Such an agreement is binding on the court, if accepted).
In my own case, there was never a question that I would plead guilty. My Plea Agreement was type (A). Unfortunately, I had no idea types (B) or (C) were available. One might think that since I was a lawyer, I should have known this. That would have been helpful, but I didn't. Here are some other random facts about Plea Agreements that I didn't know at the time.
* In 1980, 19% of federal defendants went to trial. By 2010, the share was down to 3%.
* Plea Agreements can cut court costs and speed up the docket.
* For defendants who plead guilty, consequences are severe and long lasting. Criminal records can not be expunged and often mean a ban from voting, an eviction from public housing, a denial of welfare benefits and difficulty in finding employment.
* Many plead guilty to crimes they didn't commit. Of those later cleared of murder or rape, a sizable share had pled guilty.
* For those who can't afford bail, pretrial detention increases the risk of an innocent defendant pleading guilty as many will agree to anything to get out of jail and go back to work to support a family.
* Plea agreements are tools used to browbeat defendants into guilty pleas (Think Martha Stewart, Michael Flynn, and thousands of other defendants).
* When fewer cases are tried, investigative work is sloppy, lawyers are lazy, and judges are capricious.
* If you're tempted to think, "He must be guilty because he pled guilty," think again.